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The adage goes, "If you're not paying for a service, you're the product, not the customer," and it's never been more true. Every day more news breaks about a new company that uploads your address book to their servers, skirts in-browser privacy protection, and tracks your every move on the web to learn as much about your browsing habits and activities as possible. In this post, we'll explain why you should care, and help you lock down your surfing so you can browse in peace.
A Response to Seth Godin's "The Illusion of Privacy"
"In the end, Seth has propagated a lie that many before him have told. He's just a big public figure. Privacy is hard, you can't knee jerk it. Online/electronic privacy is an active field of research, and improvements should be supported not put down with tired throw-away lines. What's more, technical ways of doing this are available and should be investigated, no matter their surprise value."
But assessing the price of admission to join the super-networked, digital class is not so simple; even experts on the issue admit that they don't have a full picture of the way personal information is collected and used on the Internet. But here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind.
Are your mobile apps spying on you?
Why is this a big deal? Because phone numbers are some of the most personal information available about anyone. They are a semi-permanent unique identification number that also serves as a direct way to reach you at all times. Giving someone else your number means you trust them to not abuse it, call you at 3 a.m. for no reason, or spray paint it on a restroom wall.
But can you trust these Web apps -- especially those that grab your numbers without asking -- to not abuse it? The answer is that we shouldn't have to. Maybe now, thanks to the Path debacle, we won't.
5 Key Points From Google's Privacy-Policy Letter to Congress
Point No. 1: Google still isn't selling your personal data.
Point No. 2: You're still up the creek if you get reeled in by a phishing scam.
Point No. 3: You can still use Google and YouTube for searching without Google knowing that you are the one doing the search.
Point No. 4: Users still have lots of options over how they're tracked across the Web.
Point No. 5: If you don't love the new integrated Google, you can always leave it.
The fact of the matter is, Google doesn't appear to be doing anything worse than what companies likeApple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook have doing for years. It's just that Google has taken arguably unprecedented pains to alert the public of imminent changes to its privacy policies and has made the new policy approachable enough for the average person to read it. (Or skim it. Or skim what someone else wrote about it after skimming it.)
Facebook’s Settlement With FTC Confirmed: Privacy Changes Must Be Opt In
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just issued a statement on the Facebook Blog confirming that his company has settled with the FTC over charges that it has violated user privacy over the year. Facebook is now “required to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences”, effectively making all future privacy control changes opt in. Facebook must also submit to privacy audits every 2 years for the next 20 years, bar access to content on deactivated accounts, and avoid misrepresenting the privacy or security of user data. The settlement will hinder Facebook’s ability to release new products, as users are typically resistant to change and may be reluctant to opt in to new privacy controls.
"Sharing and recommendation shouldn't be passive. It should be conscious, thoughtful, and amusing--we are tickled by a story, picture, or video and we choose to share it, and if a startling number of Internet users also find that thing amusing, we, together, consciously create a tidal wave of meme that elevates that piece of media to viral status. We choose these gems from the noise. Open Graph will fill our feeds with noise, burying the gems."
"Reading anonymously doesn't look deviant yet--but things will change as we bypass public libraries and start borrowing books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The former would never think of selling our data to third parties; the latter wouldn't think twice about it. In fact, they would give us coupons for sharing our reading habits."
Keep Yourself Privately Held
Your personal information is valuable. It is so valuable that companies are doing everything they can to gain more information about you. Since it is valuable, you should hoard it. The more difficult it is to acquire your personal information, the more valuable it becomes, and the better return you will get when you commoditize the information.