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Privacy? What's That?

Tech companies aren't the biggest threat to your privacy.

By Will Offensicht  |  April 25, 2011

Some months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a series "What they know about you" which described how a great many popular web sites install tracking cookies in the browsers of anyone who visits the site.

The companies gather this information by tracking your Web-surfing activity through small computer files or software programs installed on your computer by the websites you visit. Over time, this information says a lot about your interests. Companies then use the information to make other guesses and predictions about you, ranging from gender and age to marital status and creditworthiness.

The details are a bit on the geeky side, but the bottom line is that by reading those cookies when you visit other sites, advertisers can build up a picture of where you browse, what you search for, what you buy, where you live, and other data.

This sort of information is pure gold to advertisers.  The more the web sites can tell advertisers about you, the more they can charge for showing an ad to you, because the ad can be precisely targeted to the interests you already know you have.  Which makes us wonder why we keep seeing "Muslim Matrimonial Website" ads here on Scragged...

Government Rushes In!

Just recently, there have been new and startling privacy scandals: the discovery that both Apple iPhones and Google Androids record everywhere you've been, in an open, easy-to-hack format, astonished the global user community.  News that police have equipment that allows them to suck over all the non-encrypted data in your phone, remotely, during a traffic stop didn't help.

Needless to say, the usual leadership elites who want to protect naive, innocent web users against evil capitalist information-gathers have started yelling about the urgent need for the government to write laws protecting your online privacy.  The WSJ reports:

Sens. John Kerry and John McCain proposed legislation Tuesday to create a "privacy bill of rights" to protect people from the increasingly invasive commercial data-collection industry.

The bill, labeled the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, would impose new rules on companies that gather personal data, including offering people access to data about them, or the ability to block the information from being used or distributed. Companies would have to seek permission before collecting and sharing sensitive religious, medical and financial data with outside entities. [emphasis added]

This sounds good, but as with all things governmental, there are a few gotchas.

That's right: the government can not only collect any data about you it wants and isn't required to give you an opportunity to correct errors, the government can have any data anyone else collects about you just for the asking.

Why go through all the fuss and bother of getting a warrant to force Google or Facebook to turn over your private data?  This law lets them have it at any time for any reason whether it's justified or not!

Thanks to these Senators, the entire world of business becomes unpaid government snoops, and there's not a thing they can do about it without going to jail.

Do we trust Government with our private data?  With this law, trusting anyone at all with our private data is trusting government with it.

We're better off simply telling browsers to ask us before setting cookies and saying "No" most of the time, as well as using open-source encryption with no government-required backdoors.

Never write anything in an email or on Facebook that you'd rather not see in the newspaper or in court - Big Brother is not only watching, he can reach out and grab it any time he wants.  Talk about a chilling effect on innovation and on communication!

Perhaps that's the whole idea...