Thursday, August 18, 2011

Businesses Threaten Privacy For Profit

The Daily Beast points to a Wall Street Journal article which is hidden behind a paywall.  The Beast reports,
Major websites have developed a new—and legal—technique to track users’ online activities, known as a “supercookie,” a powerful device that is impossible for computer users to detect, researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, said Wednesday. Supercookies are capable of re-creating user profiles even after people delete the regular cookies, researchers said. While many companies have been criticized for the selling of private data online, some sites that use supercookies said the supercookie tracking was inadvertent and they would cease using it. MSN and Hulu, who were both notified that they had been using supercookies, announced Wednesday they would immediately investigate the technique.
Today is going to be rushed, so I'll do four quick hits about this story.  First, unless one is reasonably suspected of committing a major crime or cheating on a spouse, a person should not be tracked surreptitiously by either business or government.

Second, governments allegedly need a warrant to perform this sort of tracking.  Businesses need only a customer.  I know many people claim to love their country but fear the government.  In this case I fear the business model.  As a quick side note, I'm willing to bet that these companies won't tell me the names of their customers because they want to protect the cusomers' privacy even as they sell them surreptitiously gained private data.  I'm much more fearful of private enterprise's standard operating procedure that government standard operating procedure in this instance.

Third, many philosophers and sociologists claim that privacy is dead.  They may well be right, but courtesy ought to demand that people be informed that their privacy is being taken.  My Motorola Droid informs me every time some new app allows my location to be tapped.  I see no reason that these websites can't do the same.

Finally, in light of the previous point, tell consumers that they are being tracked and how to remove the cookies,  Many won't care that their data will be sold.  Others will be too lazy to remove the "supercookies."

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