David Kirkpatrick

September 7, 2010

“Do Not Track” movement gaining traction in DC

“Do Not Track” would be akin to the “Do Not Call” list opt-out consumer registry to prevent unsolicited sales pitches and other calls, and right now looks to have a legitimate shot at reaching the proposed legislation level, if not further. The privacy advocacy, Consumer Watchdog, is running an ad in Times Square (on a 540-square foot digital billboard no less) mocking Google’s CEO Erik Schmidt as a snooping ice cream man.

Now Schmidt (and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) have made some very boneheaded public statements about online privacy — and I’m a huge advocate of online privacy — but the reality is some level of tracking is necessary to keep the internet rolling along in its current fashion. Take away the legitimate revenue from data mining web user’s habits and all of a sudden you’ll be running into paywall after paywall of premium content. And on top of that, the technology to track web usage wouldn’t be going anywhere, it would just only be utilized by criminals or entities looking to circumvent anti tracking regulations.

Because of Schmidt and Zuckerberg’s public idiocy on online privacy, and actual privacy gaffes like Facebook’s well-publicized multiple self-inflicted wounds, the general public is much more aware of exactly how tracked they are, and even if they don’t understand exactly how that data is used, they don’t like it. Consumer Watchdog’s commissioned poll (grain of salt here due to the poll’s source) found 80 percent of the public supporting a “Do Not Track” registry. That is a high number.

So now that the online privacy debate has gone mainstream, look for likely legislation to his Washington sometime soon. And if all comes to pass, the Federal Trade Commission may get its say in this process. Is that what anyone really wants? I doubt it.

From the link:

Do Not Track legislation would be similar to the national Do Not Call registry, allowing consumers to opt out of having their web activities tracked for advertising purposes. It is a concept that has gained surprising momentum –  surprising, given the gridlock that otherwise exists on Capitol Hill – and could well be proposed as legislation in the upcoming session. House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee ChairmanRick Boucher, D-Va., and Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee ChairmanBobby Rush, D-Ill., are working on privacy legislation that they hope to have ready for for the next Congress. The Do Not Call list would likely be included.

Then there is the Federal Trade Commission. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told a Senate panel that the commission is exploring the idea as well (via Nextgov). The opt-out process could be run by the FTC or some private sector entity, he suggested.

August 19, 2010

Google’s Eric Schmidt is losing his mind

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:28 pm

What’s the deal with CEOs of big name internet companies going off the rails? Here’s Yahoo’s Carol Bartz from back in May, and now Google’s Eric Schmidt has made an increasing series of completely ridiculous statements culminating (for now) with this doozy. I hope this was said tongue-in-cheek and didn’t translate to the printed word. For some reason I doubt it. Do no evil, indeed.

From the second link:

Google (GOOG) is often accused of behaving like Big Brother, and Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt isn’t doing much to dispel those perceptions. In fact, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schmidt dropped an interesting — and frightening — tidbit: perhaps people should change their names upon reaching adulthood to eradicate the potentially reputation-damaging search records Google keeps.

“‘I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time,’ [Schmidt] says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

January 29, 2010

Cloud computing and privacy

The early results are not too promising.

From the link:

Loosely defined, cloud computing involves programs or services that run on Internet servers. Despite the buzz surrounding it, the idea isn’t new–think Web mail. But huge benefits, such as being able to gain access to your data from anywhere and not having to worry about backups, have led more people to leap to the Internet to do everything from writing documents and watching movies to managing their businesses. Unfortunately, privacy is often still stuck at home.

Behind the Times

Archaic laws that focus on where your information is, rather than what it is, are part of the problem. But a disturbing lack of respect for essential privacy among industry heavyweights who should know better is also evident.

Consider comments that Google CEO Eric Schmidt made during a recent CNBC interview. In response to the question, “People are treating Google (GOOG) like their most trusted friend. Should they be?” Schmidt responded, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

This kind of “only the guilty have anything to hide” mindset is a privacy killer, and rests on the completely flawed no tion that people want privacy only when they’re doing something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my taking a shower or searching for information about a medical condition. But it’s still private.

It’s possible Schmidt spoke without thinking–Google is mum for now on the prospect of issuing a clarification of any kind. But meanwhile, privacy is taking a pounding in other areas, as well.

Last summer, a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon ruled that government law enforcement agencies need not provide you with a copy of a warrant they have obtained in order to read all of your e-mail stored on an Internet server–where most of us keep e-mail these days. It’s sufficient to give your Internet service provider notice, according to Judge Michael Mosman.

In his opinion and order, Mosman noted the Fourth Amendment’s “strong privacy protection for homes and the items within them in the physical world.” Still, he said, “When a person uses the Internet, however, the user’s actions are no longer in his or her physical home; in fact he or she is not truly acting in private space at all.”

I bolded that last bit of text, and that may be the most important statement regarding cloud computing and privacy — when you are operating in the cloud, United States Fourth Amendment law as it is currently read does not protect your privacy.

Let me restate that — any actions you take in any aspect of cloud computing conceivably are not covered by your Fourth Amendment right to privacy. This fact should give anyone who is considering the cloud for anything beyond trivial usage a great deal of pause.