Online privacy has been a notable concern for many citizens almost since the inception of the internet, and certainly we have often discussed the issue on our blog over the years., the question of privacy largely was answered with calm warnings to use common sense and with explanations of the averages working against anyone being able to assemble any meaningful aggregate of the real you.
But now not only do companies exist precisely to, millions of us willingly offer our own aggregations via our social-network platforms of choice. Those who strive to ensure some privacy of individuals have been lobbying the federal government to block certain aggregations and pressuring companies to offer ever more powerful privacy controls to customers and members. What seems to be the state of the discussion now?
The IPO of Facebook seems to have reignited the question of internet privacy (Money, as they say, talks. And Facebook has been yelling to the tune of). Facebook’s value comes from its hundreds of millions of users, and what they read or view online. Yet none of that money comes back to them – Facebook uses their information to sell to companies who want to target advertisements back at the subscribers. Facebook’s whole raison d’etre is to get its users to offer up their ‘privacy’ willingly.
In this new world of sharing, the Obama Administration is trying to encourage private companies and internet-browser developers to draw up their own guidelines. The response has been positive – but general. Google, for example, has stated its willingness to.
Browsers mostly work up a profile of the user via ‘cookies’ that sites we visit embed in browsers’ memories. The concern for most privacy advocates is that companies are finding ways to implant and/or read cookies of sites one has not willingly visited. NPR’s ‘Science Friday’ discussed this issue last week. The pertinent passage on this issue follows:
Well, so instead of blocking all third-party cookies, Internet Explorer actually looks at each third-party cookie and makes a judgment about whether it’s a good cookie or a bad cookie, and it only blocks the bad cookies, and bad as defined by Microsoft.
And the way it decides if it’s a good cookie or a bad cookie is that cookies sometimes have a special code called a P3P Compact Policy – sounds kind of complicated. And so Internet Explorer reads that code and uses it to decide if it’s good or bad. And so what some companies discovered is that they can lie in that code so that their cookies won’t be blocked, or, even better, then can make that code basically be a non-code.
So Google and Facebook and some other companies said in their special code: This is not a policy. And by saying this is not a policy, they were able to trick Internet Explorer into accepting their cookies.
But such cookies take on a different meaning when we willingly tap into our social sites, which – by definition –. Clearly users are growing ever more aware of the amount of their ‘private’ lives being posted, shared, discussed, catered t0… online. Where the industry guidelines will go remains to be seen, but most likely such companies have a vested interest in appearing to offer more stringent privacy controls without choking off their supply of our data. That said, they surely also would rather set some of their own terms than to have the federal government do it for them.
Have you recently reviewed your privacy settings in Facebook or Google+? Does your organization delimit what gets shared on its accounts? We’d love to hear what proactive steps you and your staff are taking to keep apprised of what your online presence looks like to the larger world.