Convenience vs Privacy

5 03 2012

Google recently announced some significant changes to its privacy policy (changes which took effect a couple of days ago). If you’re a regular user of one of Google’s products (search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.), then you probably saw the news prominently displayed on these sites for the past few weeks. Basically, the company took is 60+ different privacy policies from various products and sites and combined them into one single “easy to use” policy. From Google’s organizational efficiency standpoint, this is probably a welcome change. But this single privacy policy also has a significant business advantage too: now Google can share your data between its services more easily. It’s not that Google is collecting more data, they are just consolidating it; for example, your viewing habits on YouTube can help the company advertise to you better on Gmail.

Not surprisingly, some government regulators and privacy watchdogs have suggested that these changes may be more “user friendly” but they strip away some of the privacy of individual users. There are concerns in the EU that the current policy does not adhere to their “Directive on Data Protection” and here in Canada concerns are being raised by the Privacy Commissioner. Issues include: there doesn’t seem to be a clear way of opting-out of the new policy; the policy does not explain if users can easily set up different accounts with each Google service (to avoid data consolidation); its unclear how long your data will remain in the Google ecosystem even after you’ve asked for it to be deleted. The privacy debate continues…

The CBC has more on the story here.


Twitter goes back in time

29 02 2012

Twitter has partnered with a UK company called Datasift to provide access to Twitter data dating back two years (previously companies could only search the past 30 days and regular Joes could only search the past 7 days). Datasift analyzes the data (content and tone of tweets, location, social influence of the user, etc.) and then sells access to their database to companies looking for another angle on market research.

Privacy advocates are concerned that this is yet another example of a company taking advantage of troves personal data – but, to be fair, Twitter has always been a public social network. If you had expectations of privacy when you joined Twitter, then you didn’t do your homework.

Read the synopsis from the BBC.

Not one of the 500 million

19 09 2010

You may have heard recently that Facebook celebrated it’s 500 millionth active user. Many people love the F-book but there are those who are more wary. In an interesting editorial from Wired’s UK editor, David Rowan details six reasons why he’s not part of the half a billion strong social utility (and it’s not all because of privacy concerns). You may not agree with him entirely, but you have to respect a man who writes about technology and has actually taken a moment to reflect on the service (or lack of service) it provides.

Read Rowan’s piece on the Wired website.

Where are you now?

22 02 2010

Last week the BBC had and interesting story about a website called PleaseRobMe. The site was designed to make a point about how dangerous it can be to share precise location information online. Using automatic Twitter updates that were generated from foursquare (a social location network), two Dutch programmers created the automated site. They stress that the site was not created as a tool for criminals, but to remind people about the importance of information privacy. Now the programmers are willing to offer the website to a professional foundation or agency willing to raise information about privacy related issues.

Read more on the story from the BBC.

Switzerland erased from Google

17 11 2009

Okay, well not exactly… but Switzerland is upset about Google’s street view application. Switzerland’s privacy watchdog is concerned that the service could potentially expose too much information about people – especially without consent from individual citizens. So far Google has been slow to adapt the changes requested by the government, forcing officials to take them to court. Other European countries (notably Germany) have stated similar concerns about privacy and Street view. We’ll see where this goes…

Read more from the CBC.

Social (gossip) networks and patient confidentiality

25 09 2009

Recently the Journal of the American Medical Association found that some doctors in training are posting unprofessional content online. Sure, there were the usual examples of drunkenness, drug use and other debauchery, but most concerning is that some people were posting revealing details about their patients online. In a couple of cases, there was enough clinical information posted to potentially identify the patient. So much for doctor-patient privilege.

Let this be a lesson to you: be careful what you tweet, Facebook, or blog about – it might hurt your professional aspirations.

Read more from the BBC.

Surveillance in Seattle

18 09 2009

The city of Medina (an affluent suburb of Seattle) has recently installed a surveillance system that monitors and records every vehicle that crosses the town limits. Any suspicious activities, vehicles or people are quickly reported to police. In a city where the average household income is more than $200,000 USD it makes sense to want to “stay safe” (and protect your significant amount of property!). But here’s an interesting stat for you: Medina had only 11 burglaries last year – not exactly the crime capital of the world.

The surveillance society means that citizens can rest easy – no more sleepless nights in Seattle Medina.

Read the full article from the Seattle Times, or check out the commentary on BoingBoing.