Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ethics News: Google's new privacy policy renews debate on internet privacy

After an extremely interesting ethics bowl with IPRO 312, where a number of students filled me in on some of the more disturbing developments surrounding the that status of online privacy (or lack of it)   I decided to to a bit more investigating about Google's new privacy policy. Most of us who use one or more of Google's applications such as Gmail  have received some notice about the changes the company plans to make to their policy. We have certainly been given advance warning. And Google provides some great free services for users, for which we give them the right to use our personal information and display personalized ads based on   this information. But have you stopped to actually read and think about how much control you actually have over the use of this information, and what the implications of this new privacy policy might be? As many universities like IIT are now relying more and more on Google to take care of our daily calendars, student email, and the like, what are the privacy implications for our students, staff and faculty?

There are ways to opt out of allowing Google to use this data, and I don't think I am going to relinquish my use of Gmail anytime soon. But it does raise some questions about how much privacy we are willing to let go of so companies like Google can make our Web experience more personalized.

Certainly the EU and the U.S. Congress are weighing in. Earlier this month the European Union's data protection authorities released a letter asking Google to delay the their new policy until they had verified that it does not break the block EU data protection allows. Google responded that it had briefed data protection agencies beforehand and had heard of no substantial concerns. Today, France's CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des liberteshas stated that the policy appears to violate EU data protection laws, and has reiterated the earlier request to delay the policy.

 In the U.S.  legislation  that would have potentially stopped the efforts of Web companies to collect consumer fell short of doing so. After years of negotiation, a set of privacy guidelines were unveiled on February 23 that urged Web companies to install "do not track" technology on browsers but fell short of requiring it. The guidelines urge for more transparency and more user-control over their personal data, and a number of companies have agreed to follow these voluntary guidelines. 

Here are some resources to scan if you are interested in getting more information.

Google's information on changes to the privacy policy, including the new policy that will begin on March 1st, and the older version.

New York Time's Bits Blog on Google

PC Magazine on Google's new privacy policy, and how a recent study has shown that most users are still uninformed about how the changes will affect them.

What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to be an informed consumer in how we use the web, or do you think Web companies should go further in making their privacy policies more transparent? Or, should there be more legal limits on how companies can store and use our personal data?

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