Wednesday05 October 2022

It Is Not About Privacy; It is All About Data Usage

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Online privacy is a big issue in the US and around the world. Every day we as consumers dump information about ourselves into the web in the form of email, texts, tweets, Facebook updates, documents purchasing habits and more. We put our trust in the companies that maintain that data and have faith that the laws that should protect our private information are being followed and even more to the point enforced. Sadly it seems that we have never really had a right to have our personal information protected after it leaves our computers and enters the Internet.

Over the last 10 or so years there has been a battle going on between corporate entities and groups that advocate for consumer and individual rights. This battle has often spilled over into court where judges that have little knowledge of the Internet or how it works have been allowed to make legal decisions. One of the biggest has been about the reasonable expectation of privacy. Put simply, many courts feel that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy because you no longer maintain physical control of it and because you might have published some of this same data on an open social networking site. This has led to many arguments about who owns the data and the “privacy” issue has actually slipped back to being an argument over usage rights.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others want to establish ownership of your data and then usage rights. They have been working on this for a very long time and have quite a bit of money tied up in lawyers that are tasked with finding the right balance of wording for their privacy agreements with their customers. These documents are really little more than legal shields for them to use your data in any way they seem fit. In fact Facebook no longer has a privacy policy, but now calls it what it really is a “data usage policy”. Many of you may remember that Facebook got into trouble for using pictures posted by their members in paid advertising. Facebook was fined $10 million for the incident and had to discontinue the practice. What interested us most about this case was that the verdict had almost nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with usage rights. Simply put Facebook was not allowed to use images of their members as sponsors for advertising. To our knowledge they were not found to have violated anyone’s privacy at all.

In complains where privacy is involved there is often a very small fine in relation to the actual deed. As an example despite being found to have willfully violated people’s privacy by collecting wireless data from homes (using Street View cars) Google is being fined less than $200,000. This fine is an embarrassment and an insult to the people that had their wireless information collected. What this spells out is that it is ok for someone to willfully violate your right to privacy in your own home, but it is not ok to use an image of you in an advertisement as that violates image usage rights and can actually spill over into copyright in some circumstances (with the right lawyer). This distinction is critical for corporate interests as they need to ensure they can protect their products while being able to use your data.

In short until there are better defined laws about data ownership, privacy expectations, and data usage then there is no way that corporations will ever really stop abusing the data that they have. The way things are going we might see family and individual copyright lawyers popping up on the scene so that we call can establish trademarks and/or copyright on our names and personal information. It seems that is the only way to protect yourself these days as we all know that no corporation wants to kill off copyright or trademark laws. Maybe the courts should establish minimum statutory fines for violating privacy laws using the same math that the MPAA and RIAA did; I wonder if that would help prevent the blatant abuses of individual rights to privacy we certainly need something to help stop this. Unfortunately, we doubt that governments really are concerned with stopping this; they appear to only want to make a show and not really do anything constructive.

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Last modified on Thursday, 25 April 2013 19:52

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