Jan 24, 2010

Three Privacy Tales

Black t-shirt that reads, privacy is not a crimeA very smart, millennial new media colleague was talking online privacy over a beer. He said that he didn't really have an expectation of privacy and that he trusted Google to do right.

Last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt ruffled more than a few privacy feathers.
In a recent interview [CEO Schmidt] suggested that people pushing for privacy are the one's at fault: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

This sounds suspiciously like a reheated version of "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about," that's trotted out by law enforcement types when pushing for stronger laws to violate individuals' privacy. It's an odd statement for someone like Schmidt to make, especially given the incredible level of scrutiny given to Google for the view it has into people's lives. To folks who are worried about such things, it sounds positively dismissive, which isn't the position that Google should be cultivating with those who are concerned right now." --
More on TechDirt
This month, another tech giant, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, resurrected the controversy when he said that people don't expect privacy anymore.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a live audience this weekend that the world has changed, that it's become more public and less private, and that the controversial new default and permanent settings reflect how the site would work if he were to create it today. Not everyone agrees with his move and its justification.

Has society become less private or is it Facebook that's pushing people in that direction? Is privacy online just an illusion anyway?--Read more on ReadWriteWeb
Facebook, with it's 350 million members has modified it's views on privacy as well as its policies. From a closed network in which only people that you have approved can see your profile, photos and other information to a fairly open network in which the default is "open to all" including search engine results.

My third privacy tale is from another direction--and continent. Europe has had pretty strong online privacy protections. In November, the European Union passed a law requiring Internet users' consent before cookies can be placed on their machines.
The amended directive will now state that national governments must "ensure that the storing of information, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his/her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information."

Cookies without user consent would only be allowed when they are "strictly necessary" to provide a service "explicitly requested" by the user such as storing shopping cart information on e-commerce sites, for example.--Read more at ClickZ
So, as big U.S. tech/new media moguls posit that privacy is becoming less important, to the Europeans, at least, it's critical to protect.

In the U.S., dot-gov has stronger privacy requirements than the private sector. There are some who think, though, that the EU controls will force a change in the commercial sector--especially to put more control in the hands of the consumer to be included in tracking and data gathering.

In the meantime, federal agencies will continue to face barriers in using commercial tools that use cookies to track users as these privacy tales play out.


  1. While I do believe that users on social networking sites are slowly becoming less concerned about their information being public, there STILL must be a level of agreed upon and trusted privacy between the user and the organization (gov't or commercial).

    Making a statement like that which Schmidt made is like him telling me not to use online banking services unless I want all of my account and financial information publicly available. Simply because I do things online doesn't mean I expect every bit of it to be public. There are some things that should always be private and that's an agreement which happens between the user and the company. It's the same kind of agreement that people have made with Facebook...or at least have come to assume Facebook has agreed to. Same thing with Google.

  2. @govy said "It's the same kind of agreement that people have made with Facebook...or at least have come to assume Facebook has agreed to. Same thing with Google."

    And let me say, "same thing with government."


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