Paranoia Will Destroy Ya’: Re-thinking 20th Century Online Privacy Concerns

online privacy lawsThe Internet had us at hello; we haven’t been able to quit it. Yes, we know that potential danger lurks behind every click; yet, the pull of online sales, anonymous gossip, and easy money keeps us digitally tethered. Some might argue that we’ve collectively swallowed the proverbial “blue pill.”

But at what cost, now that the average consumer doesn’t leave home without 2 or 3 wired devices?

We’re Paranoid about Protecting Our Online Privacy, But Not Enough to Give-Up Google

A recent poll conducted by USA TODAY and Gallup showed that 70% of Facebook and 52% of Google users are concerned about Internet privacy. Consumer Watchdog’s 2010 survey was even more convincing. When asked: “Is it important to have more online privacy laws that protect your personal information?” 90% of respondents answered “Yes!” Out of the Watchdog respondents, 86% said they favored a single-click “make me anonymous button” on browsers like Google, Safari, and Chrome.

Are We Paranoid Enough? Recent Privacy Breaches Raise Cause for Great Online Privacy Concerns

“Consumers generally do not understand who has access to their data and for what purpose,” cautioned Ryan Calo, director of Stanford University’s Consumer Privacy Project. And he’s right. Chances are you’d be shocked to learn how many data-workers have had access to your name, e-mail, address, and even credit card information. Even more ominous is the amount of hackers who now have access to that information illegally.

Take, for example, two recent corporate privacy breaches: Google’s Wi-Spy Scandal and Sony’s PlayStation Network debacle.

Google’s Online Privacy Problem

In 2010, Stephen Conroy, Australian Minister for Communications, declared that Google’s Street View project constituted the “largest privacy breach in the history across western democracies”.

What did Google do that raised the ire of overseas governments?

In some people’s eyes, Google spied on millions of people using unsecured wireless networks — and then saved all the illegally collected data. Like a child getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar, when first confronted, Google feigned ignorance, but eventually had to admit wrongdoing. Google swears, though, that any personal data was  “inadvertently” captured and never analyzed.

The FTC opened an investigation into the matter, but mysteriously dropped the charges in the fall of 2010 with little fanfare or media coverage.

Sony’s Privacy Problems

Sony was the latest mega-corp to drop the privacy ball. Another security breach of portentous proportions, hackers compromised the emails, addresses, login names and, possibly, credit card numbers of over 70 million PlayStation Network users . PSN has been up-and-down in the weeks following the cyber attack, and the only politician that seems to be genuinely worried is Saturday Night Live alumnus, Al Franken.

Computer viruses are more than just annoying pranks; they’re privacy attacks that could render you impecunious.

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