Forever and a day, the public has feared Big Brother spying on them in unimaginable ways. This year, we discovered that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica sold the personal information of their customers en masse without mercy. We learned that they were using facial recognition without customer consent. It's not like Facebook invented this crime of selling personal data but it's the scope of their reach that made this a stunning revelation.
Back in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. They sold the consumers' viewing histories to advertisers and personal viewing habits to content providers.
There was so much money to be made selling user data that Vizio went one step further and retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely.
While fearing the reach that the Government now has, who would have thought that some of our favorite tech companies were taking on the roll of Big Brother driven by ruthless greed.
Last week the so-called incident involving Amazon's echo speaker was another crazy invasion of privacy story. The chain of events Amazon had claimed to occur didn't pass the laugh test.
Google got caught last October recording user conversations in its new Google Home mini. If it wasn't for a smart reporter catching this feature, who knows how many conversations the devices would have recorded over time with the possibility of hackers gaining access to these private conversations. Was it really a "bug" as Google claims?
Who could save us from this information gathering monster in Silicon Valley? Oddly enough, it could be new legislation from the European Union, via their new internet policy known as "General Data Protection Regulation" (GDPR).
Yesterday, Counterpoint Research published a report titled "GDPR: Restoring Faith in Data Privacy." The report claims that GDPR, which officially kicked-in Friday, "will play a crucial role for both the organization and the consumer by helping restore the faith lost in organizations that use personal data. It means implementing strict rules for organizations and backs this up with potentially serious consequences in cases of noncompliance and violation.
GDPR compliance demands more than basic data-loss prevention or just post-data-loss reporting. It also demands that organizations set pre-defined protocols and precautionary measures to prevent data-loss in the first place. It also advises organizations on using predictive tools to anticipate attacks and take appropriate actions against the exploitation of potential vulnerabilities." You could read more about this here.
Reuters reporting on this same development stated in their report that "People in the [European] bloc have been bombarded with dozens of emails asking for their consent to keep processing their data, and a privacy activist wasted no time in taking action against U.S. tech giants for allegedly acting illegally by forcing users to accept intrusive terms of service or lose access."
"This (forced consent) is an issue that we will be looking at immediately, and work is already underway," said Helen Dixon, head of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which will be responsible for policing U.S. giants, Facebook and Google, among others.
Many privacy advocates have hailed the new law as a model for personal data protection in the internet era and called on other countries to follow the European model. You could read more about this in the Reuters report here. The report also touches on data portability for things as music playlists.
The issue of "forcing users to accept intrusive terms of service or lose access" as highlighted above is equally an issue in the U.S. and Canada. This week I went to moderate comments on Patently Apple only to find out that I was locked out of my account. I was "forced" to check off a box agreeing to their new terms or lose access to my account.
That type of tactic is the equivalent of putting a gun to my head with the clear message: "agree or else." It's clear that Disqus collects a lot of information for their advertisers and in order to stay viable, they have to legally take this route.
The vast majority of blogs make their income from advertising. Yet to be fair, an ad is supposedly to sell a product, be it an app, hardware or services. The way it's been done on TV from day one. Yet online advertisers now go far beyond mere commerce and delve into grabbing all personal data available to them. The government hasn't kept up with the times and need to step in and put an end to the added activity that advertisers are now practicing in order to make larger profits.
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