Wednesday, April 2, 2008

No place to hide

We may be the last generation of Americans who become uncomfortable as companies such as Google roll out products like Google Street View.

At last count more than 50 U.S. cities have seen most of their street-level panoramas made available on the Web. See the full list by checking out the Street View entry on Wikipedia.

Instead of showing concern, the media simply watch the arrival of Street View as inevitable. Or in some cases, as at the snarky blog Valleywag, simply find nutty irony in the gaps in the Google Street View universe. (See this entry.)

In 15 years this will hardly grab any attention at all.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Google trying to calm the waters over DoubleClick acquisition

Google is working with other companies to push consumer privacy legislation in the U.S. Congress and will work with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to fine-tune online advertising principles the agency proposed in December, the company's top privacy executives said Wednesday.

In addition, Google is reaching out to privacy advocates in an effort to allay concerns about its acquisition of online advertising vendor DoubleClick, company officials said.

Privacy is of such concern for Google that it embeds privacy lawyers with product teams, Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel, told reporters in Washington, D.C. Google, in its own products and in policy discussions, has focused on three privacy principles: transparency of privacy policies, security of data and user choice, and control over how data is used, she said.

"People don't like binary choices about how to use data," Wong said. "They want to be [online] on their own terms."

This week, Google hosted a meeting of the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum, a group of companies focused on getting a consumer privacy bill passed in the U.S. Congress. The group, formed in 2006, doesn't expect legislation to pass this year, but is working toward consensus on privacy issues, said Jane Horvath, Google's senior privacy counsel. The group plans to run its ideas past privacy groups and the FTC before pushing for legislation, she said.

In addition, Google plans to file formal comments about the FTC's proposed privacy principles for online behavior advertising, added Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel. Among the FTC proposals: Web sites should provide clear and prominent statements that data is being collected to provide targeted ads, and companies should obtain consumer consent before using data in a different way from what the companies promised when they collected the data.

Google supports the FTC's work on the privacy principles, Fleischer said, but it will raise some questions when it files its comments. For example, the FTC has asked for comments on what constitutes "sensitive data" and whether it should prohibit the use of sensitive data

Friday, March 28, 2008

Washington makes RFID scanning a felony crime

From the east side of the state, we're glad to see that Washington passed what seems to be the nation's first law protecting consumer privacy regarding RFID scanning.

The new law, going into effect in July, makes it a Class C felony to maliciously scan someone's identification remotely without their knowledge and consent.

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law this week.

The bill's sponsor, Jeff Morris, said it's the first law of its kind in the United States. California is weighing similar measures.

Morris, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, said he will continue to consider additional measures to stop companies from spying on consumers without their consent for marketing purposes.

"This is just one small step to stake out some boundaries around our individual consumer rights before it's too late," he said while announcing the bill signing.

The law applies to RFID chips in identification cards, cell phones, and even running shoes, like those that Nike coupled with iPods so runners can log their mileage, pace, and calories burned.

Morris warned thieves could use RFID chips embedded in consumer products to scour a neighborhood using an RFID reader to find and target homes containing the most appealing products. He also said that police could use readers to obtain the identities of people in a mob situation, but he added that readers could capture innocent passersby as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Not going out on a limb

This is an early-stage blog devoted to concerns over privacy. Particularly, it will look at how Web technology changes what our expectations of privacy are.

Pls. post suggestions or comments here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New book Patriotic Information Systems is not a fast read

Second in a series of reviews of recent books on the topic of government policies and their impact on personal privacy.

This second title is “Patriotic Information Systems,” by Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson, published by IGI Publishing.

The summary explains this book will discuss the inherent “bias” that status-quo IT security systems in the U.S. have toward grassroots and openly protected privacy concerns.

This is not a quick read. Its tone is academic, its approach is scholarly. The three main sections or chapters are: Bush Administration Information Policy and Democratic Values, The Dismantling of Public Information Systems after 9/11 (the decline of freedom of information) and finally, Security, Technology and Democracy.

For reasons that remain unclear, the authors really enjoyed diving into RFID (radio frequency ID) technology. The section on that technology is extensive and actually well-done. But its length is a bit disproportionate to the key questions of the book: namely is the IT system being implemented without adequate safeguards against invasion of privacy?

Its justification seems to have derived from the authors’ extensive research on the topic; too bad they did less explaining about RFID and more analysis of its likely impact.

The War on Privacy (book review)

This is the first of occasional reviews of books and Web content addressing the privacy discussion.

The War on Privacy. by Jacqueline Klosek

This late 2007 book addresses the misconception that assaults on privacy come only from the industrial/corporate side. Jacqueline Klosek’s “The War On Privacy” (published by Praeger Books) looks at the practices by government to target and collect personal information in the cause of the war on terrorism.

A central thesis of the book is that companies find themselves now caught between the government’s goal of increased surveillance and their customers’ concerns over invasion of privacy.

Regrettably, while that thesis is central to the big picture, Klosek wanders off topic for a broad and discursive view of privacy in a variety of countries and cultures. This is interesting, but not the discussion the book’s blurbs and title lead us to expect.