With Facebook IPO, time to friend privacy
Facebook's IPO, or initial public offering, will lead to shareholder pressure on the firm to squeeze profits out of users' personal data. Google, too, faces more scrutiny as it mines user data even more. Privacy watchdogs need to be on the alert.
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Even the Supreme Court is highly divided in how to protect privacy in an age of fast-changing technologies. In a ruling last month against police placing a global positioning system (GPS) device on a suspect’s car, the justices all agreed in the decision but differed widely in their reasoning.Skip to next paragraph
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Some justices prefer to leave open the question of what is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, wondered if users of technology really know their privacy options. “I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on,” she wrote.
Justice Samuel Alito pointed to a great divide among Internet users – those who don’t care about privacy and those who do. “New technology may provide increased convenience or security at the expense of privacy, and many people may find the tradeoff worthwhile,” he wrote.
So far, mere threats of enforcement by government have pushed Internet companies to self-regulate. Such a strategy has worked well in other industries. In coming days, the FTC is expected to issue a privacy report that calls for more voluntary regulation among companies in how they gather and sell consumer data.
FTC Commissioner Julie Brill urges the industry to develop a one-stop place for consumers to see the masses of information about them. “Data brokers need to get cracking now to put something like this into place,” she says.
Government must walk carefully in imposing rules that would warp the Web’s future or turn out to be wrong. In 1979, when phones were stationary objects, the Supreme Court ruled that dialed numbers are not private information. Now with mobile phones that can be used to track a person’s travels, the court might rule otherwise.