Users Caught in the Middle of Privacy Controversy

by Matt Klassen on February 20, 2012

While certainly nothing new, there is an interesting conflict brewing in the mobile universe between the demand for privacy and the demand to make money off focused user-specific advertising. Since the birth of the mobile app it seems we’ve been hearing stories of companies like Google, Apple, or Facebook playing fast and loose with our personal information; installing latent tracking abilities into phones to record location, tracking data usage habits, and even going so far as to track the web sites we visit all in hopes of knowing us a little better in order to advertise to us more effectively.

Although I hope we would never be foolish enough to think that our web habits have ever truly been private—for statistical purposes most websites that you visit can track at least what site you’ve come from and where you go immediately after—it is this point in particular that has once again provided the spark that has reignited the privacy debate.

But with specific privacy intrusions aside, this ongoing conflict raises a more important overarching question; does anyone really care about our privacy?

The most recent privacy scandal (which now happen so often I have to wonder if we can really call them ‘scandals’ anymore) involves Google and its incessant need to track your search habits, particularly those users utilizing Apple’s Safari browser. Late last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Google and several advertising companies have been using a covert piece of code to circumvent the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser that pertain to web tracking. While the settings were designed specifically to protect users from having their usage habits tracked, Google found a backdoor into the system that enabled the search engine giant to do just that, track users Web usage.

Of course the scandal was followed by the standard bevy of complaints filed to Federal regulatory boards like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the usual lawsuits were threatened, and the public outcry was met with governmental promises for swift and decisive action…but who are we kidding, the truth of the matter is that between Washington and the Silicon Valley its becoming abundantly that no one really cares and that we, the average technology user, are on our own.

On the one side we have technology and social networking companies, businesses that have shown time and again that no matter how much they say they value the average user, what they really value is the average user’s money and have demonstrated time and again that they’ll do almost anything to get it. On the other side we have Federal regulatory bodies and Congress, bureaucratic entities that wake up long enough to hear the public outcry and promise a decisive response in an effort to pander for votes.

In the middle, unfortunately, sit the rest of us, unwilling pawns in this privacy game, periodically exploited for both those things (money or votes) all the while watching our privacy get flushed down the toilet.

Now truth be told I’ve consistently said that users themselves need to take responsibility for their own privacy, to closely monitor what they allow to access their private information, and understand, above all, that increased awareness of user habits (hence tracking and recording) is what puts the ‘smart’ in smartphone, but it seems these days that even the diligent user has no chance.

In fact, for tech companies it seems like the current modus operandiis simply to ask for forgiveness (when they’re caught) rather than ask for permission; afer all it’s easier to do and it allows those advertisings dollars to continue unabated. But with users caught in the middle of the arrogance of Silicon Valley and the apathy of Capital Hill, it seems now is the time to truly demand change, to let companies like Google know its not okay to covertly track our habits, to let Congress know that regulations need to be established, and let everyone know that we the people want more than makeshift Band-aid answers, we want systemic change.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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