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

Internet lawyer talks about online privacy concernsThe Internet had us at hello; and since then, we haven’t been able to quit it. Online privacy be damned.

Yes, we know there is potential danger lurking behind every click of the mouse; yet, the pull of online sales, anonymous gossiping, and easy money keeps us coming back. We’re plugged in to the Internet like Neo to the Matrix.

But at what cost?

Remember back when “Blackberry-addict” first entered our lexicon? It almost seems quaint, since now the average consumer has between 2 to 3 electronic devices on their person at any given time. Today, we’ve got our tablet PCs, smartphones and e-readers…oh my!

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. Even more convincing was Consumer Watchdog’s 2010 survey. When asked the question, “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.

That being said, Google and Facebook have grown exponentially over the last several years. So while we’re collectively skeptical, there’s just something about search engines and social networking that has us hooked.

Are We Not 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 latest foot-bullet dubbed the 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 governments across the globe?

In some people’s eyes, Google spied on millions of people using unsecured wireless networks – and then saved all the illegal data that was collected. 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, though, swears that any personal data was collected “inadvertently” and never looked at.

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

Sony’s Privacy Problems

The latest mega-corp to drop the privacy ball was Sony. Another security breach of portentous proportions, the emails, addresses, login names and, possibly, credit card numbers of over 70 million PlayStation Network users was compromised. An ingenious hacker lurking in the ether of the Internet got their hands on all of it. 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. Only time will tell what direction the government decides to take.

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