Boosting online privacy

Aug 04, 2010 McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hardly a month goes by without a new alarm being sounded about privacy online, either because companies are surreptitiously collecting and using data about Web users or because they're releasing information that users thought would be kept private. Web surfers' sense that they have little or no control over these data makes them suspicious even of efforts to make advertising more palatable, such as the shift from one-size-fits-all ads to more personalized and relevant pitches.

Simply put, the current approach to online privacy isn't working. Most sites have voluntarily adopted privacy policies that disclose what information they collect and how they plan to use it. But in all too many cases the policies are so dense and legalistic that they're useless to consumers. Nor is there any penalty for weak or incomprehensible policies. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission's enforcement has focused on companies that don't abide by their published policies or fail to prevent unauthorized disclosures.

In response, Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., have put forward bills that would require sites to notify before collecting and using their personal information and allow them to opt out. Sites would also have to obtain permission before disclosing certain data to third parties (such as online advertisers) or changing how they use them.

Lawmakers' concern about privacy is well founded, but regulating the flow of information online is a tricky business. The bills' simple-sounding notification requirements could force consumers to wade through messages from multiple ad networks on any given website. Obtaining permission to share users' data isn't as straightforward as the bills suggest either. Users who don't want revealed in some contexts may welcome it in others -- for example, they may not want Facebook telling advertisers about the interests they reveal to their friends, but they may be eager for to share that information with Amazon so their friends can buy them better gifts.

Before layering on more rules, should wait for the recommendations that come out of the privacy roundtables the FTC conducted in the past year. The FTC's main principles -- building privacy protections into website design, making privacy policies easier to understand and simplifying the choices facing consumers -- are good ones. Also due shortly is a labeling effort by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for online advertisers, which aims to notify Web users about the data being collected by advertisers and give them an easy way to opt out. It's not a complete solution, but it's worth seeing how much trust the industry can restore just by being more forthcoming.

Explore further: Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Congress weighs landmark change in Web ad privacy

Sep 07, 2009

(AP) -- The Web sites we visit, the online links we click, the search queries we conduct, the products we put in virtual shopping carts, the personal details we reveal on social networking pages - all of this can give companies ...

Web ad group launches privacy education campaign

Dec 03, 2009

(AP) -- A group of leading Internet publishers and digital marketing services on Thursday launched an online campaign to educate consumers about how they are tracked and targeted for pitches on the Web.

Facebook's expansion triggers political backlash

Apr 27, 2010

(AP) -- Facebook's plan to spread its online social network to other websites could be detoured by regulators looking into privacy concerns that have raised the ire of federal lawmakers.

Report: Widespread data sharing, 'Web bugs'

Jun 02, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information released a report late Monday (June 1) showing that the most popular Web sites in the United States all share ...

Recommended for you

Net neutrality balancing act

14 hours ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

Apr 16, 2014

Social networking company Twitter on Wednesday rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office there, following accusations of tax evasion and a two-week ban on the service.

How does false information spread online?

Apr 16, 2014

Last summer the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify top trends facing the world, including what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DavidPrentice
not rated yet Aug 20, 2010
A new approach let's you use Google Mail (and other cloud based services) - but still keep your privacy in tact, by encrypting the sensitive portions of your email, appointments and other postings, before sending them through the cloud.

Just select the part of your email that you want to keep private, pick a keyword and encrypt that part. You still work as you do today, and the cloud services typically isn't affected since only regular keyboard characters are used for the encrypted results. But, only people who you've shared your keyword with can read the CLOAKed parts of your postings. But the Cloud Service provider nor its employees, or its advertising partners can read your content.

CloakGuard offers a free Firefox plugin as well as a free online version that does the encryption without requiring any software to be installed.

Free Plug-In Download ---- https://addons.mo.../194385/
Free Online version ---- http://cloakguard...free.php
Demo ---- h

More news stories

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...