light recent data breaches like AT&T's accidental
release of 100,000+ iPad customers' email addresses
(including both Democratic and Republican politicians), some in the
software industry and government are pushing for tougher privacy
Among those companies pushing for improvements is
Microsoft. Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist for Microsoft
Corp, speaking at the Family Online Safety Institute's annual
conference, states, "Information is the currency of growth, but
it's also increasingly become the currency of crime. People
have very high expectations when it comes to companies in terms of
how they collect, use, store and most importantly protect their
Its unacceptable for internet service
providers and wireless carriers to let data be stolen or sell private
data, he believes.
Online reputation-management company
ReputationDefender founder, Michael Fertik, told a government panel recently that some people are suggesting that the U.S. government step up and force ISPs to
give customers an easy to use interface to control what kinds of
personal data they want to allow to be collected -- the strategy employed by European regulators. He argues
that most customers don't even realize that online media companies (e.g. Facebook, Google) are tracking their
online behavior. In a conversation with Reuters he
states, "It's remarkable how deep the data sets are about each
of us, and it's disturbing."
While data miners like Google and Yahoo
its data retention times, the companies regularly
collect data on users' "private" internet
activities -- particularly web searches. That data could
increasingly land some users in trouble. For example, health
insurers are investigating using mined search data to monitor how
often users frequent fast food restaurants, increasing premiums
accordingly. And some private investigation firms want to use
searches for dating sites to ID infidelity.
Mr. Fertik says
that expecting advertising-driven companies to self-censor when there's
profit to be made is a questionable proposition. He stated to us, "It is impossible to run a digital media company and care deeply about privacy."
Microsoft, despite doing some data mining of its own, earned Mr. Fertik's praise. The key differentiation, as he sees it, is that Microsoft does not make the majority of its profits from advertising and thus has far less to lose from protecting privacy than its rivals. He commented to us, "Microsoft and IBM dont make most of their money off advertising, so there's [little] tension between money and privacy."
He also tells us that he supports legislation to make it easier to opt out of data mining, stating, "It should be easier to opt out."
Congress is currently debating the proposal of new
privacy laws that could offer users new protections in an
increasingly web-connected world. The idea has some support
with both parties -- and some opposition from members of both
parties, as well. Amy Mushahwar, a data privacy and security
attorney at Reed Smith LLP, states, "This is a much less
partisan issue that still has the potential for movement."
privacy advocates are concerned, though that the U.S. Congress might
use a "privacy" bill as a Trojan horse to sneak
anti-piracy provisions and proposed warrantless
government monitoring of U.S. citizens online.
Updated: Nov 12, 2010 2:20 p.m.
There was some ambiguity in the interview Mr. Fertik gave Reuters, regarding whether he was directing his comments towards Microsoft. We briefly interviewed him and have gained more perspective on his opinions.
Mr. Fertik made it clear to us that actually he holds a positive opinion of Microsoft and that he does not give negative comments about specific companies -- only positive ones. When giving critical comments he refers in generalities like "media companies". It is, however, pretty easy to figure out who the biggest-advertising driven forces on the internet are, so the remarks aren't too cryptic.
ReputationDefender is a company users can pay to remove their personal information from mining database and to lock those databases from collecting future information on their activities.