Friday, April 15, 2011

Saving Private Browsing

Access To Data About You on the Web

You’ve always suspected that someone was watching your web activity, but you were wrong.  LOTS of people are watching, and they are correlating data about you.  Or to be more accurate, there’s lots of data being collected in an automated way (with few human eyes involved) about your browser’s activities, with or without your actual name, and there’s also lots of data elsewhere on the web that connects lots of things with your name.  So a really complete picture comes about by pulling that data together.

There’s currently a bill in the senate, sponsored by Senators John Kerry and John McCain, that tries to address online privacy concerns.  It’s the first serious effort that I know of to consider privacy in the context of modern online practices.

The bill deals with data collection, retention, and re-distribution of data such as email addresses and other identifiers, phone numbers, credit and banking information, location information, and more.  The full text of the bill is linked below.
It’s a little over 40 pages long, and I’ll admit I haven’t read very much of it and don’t plan to until we see how it’s received and how it evolves in Congress.
According to ars technica the bill would make it possible for internet users to access information about themselves anytime in order to review it, change it or get the information purged.  It also would allow users to be notified every time a third party such as an advertising network accesses some of that data.
According to the Wall Street Journal, this bill would create the nation's first comprehensive privacy law, covering personal-data gathering across all industries. They also point out that in December, the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to authorize creation of a "do-not-track" system, modeled after the do-not-call list that governs telemarketers.  The EFF, though, points out that the lack of controls on tracking is the bill’s most glaring deficiency.
Do the protections the bill would afford us make it worth it, even with it’s shortcomings?  Is it a stepping stone on the way to even more comprehensive protections?  Or would the passing of a bill in the current form allow those tracking practices not specifically addressed to become more entrenched?
Please leave your comments.  We’ll keep an eye on this one together as it develops.

ARS Technica Article:
EFF Article:

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