Internet

Private Parts

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Underrated movie!

The House Subcommittee on Technology and the Internet released a discussion draft of an online privacy bill yesterday. The main function of the bill is to put limits on how web companies can track user data. Here's a summary from the New York Times:

The proposed bill would expand what information should be considered confidential. It would require companies to post clear and understandable privacy notices when they collected information. Such information could range from health or financial data to any unique identifier, including a customer identification number, a user's race or sexual orientation, the user's precise location or any preference profile the user has filled out. It could also include an Internet Protocol address, the numerical address assigned to each computer connecting to the Internet that many companies use now to aim particular messages at users, which the companies argue is not personally identifiable.

…The bill also requires companies to advise consumers even when they are collecting any of that information off line, which could include data houses and direct marketers.

The online and off-line privacy notices would have to include a description of the information being collected, why the company was collecting that information, how that information might be linked or combined with other data about the individual or computer, and why the company would disclose that information and to what types of other companies, among other requirements.

Even still, the proposal is already being criticized for being too lenient. I can certainly understand why individuals might be concerned about protecting their privacy online, and I think that if there's going to be regulation, disclosure requirements are probably the least onerous option. But I'm not convinced that we're better off with Congress setting privacy standards or predefining the terms of privacy agreements. As Adam Theirer and Berin Szoka of the Progress and Freedom Foundation point out, "privacy varies across users and depending on context, and…there's no escaping the trade-off between locking down information and the many benefits for consumers associated with the free flow of information." Disclosing personal data isn't always a good thing, but the upside—companies that know more about your preferences can serve you better—tends to get lost in these discussions.

Meanwhile, if members of Congress are so keen to look into privacy violations, they ought to look into incidents like this.

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  1. The so-called upside, “companies that know more about your preferences can serve you better” is just so much rank speculation. The collective interest in the free flow of information must give way to the paramount right of an individual to his privacy.

  2. Howard Stern is an overrated 13-year-old.

    EOM

    1. Pat Kilbane does a great Stern impersonation. That is all.

    2. Pip is just pissed off that the other South Park kids have shunned him.

  3. I think this bill dies a horrid death. Even in a Democratic Congress. These Internet laws tend to have all sorts of unintended consequences that piss off consumers.

    And Private Parts is a decent flick, even if you don’t like Stern.

    1. I’m going to reserve judgment.

      I have read enough of the “user agreements” on some company websites to think that there needs to be some protection for the consumers. (The strongest privacy clause I saw in any agreement said that the company would not sell the information to any third party [but did not promise not to ‘release’ the information]. However, the user agreement basically allowed the company to change the policy at any time without notice.)

      However, your ‘unintended consequences’ concern is valid.

      It would be nice, however, if the bill were to say that the data obtained could not be released without a supeona.

    2. Howard was once very funny, and Private Parts is a totally watchable movie; in fact, it’s actually quite well written.

      But you can’t compare the Howard of today with the Howard of 1990. That’s like comparing the Eddie Murphy of today to the Eddie Murphy of 1985.

  4. they ought to look into incidents like this.

    I don’t have a link, but I read a wire story about that today. In shocking news, the school’s own investigation has found no evidence of spying on students.

    So we can be shocked by that.

  5. Note lack of limits on how government agencies can track user data…

    1. No doubt an oversight. Janet Napolitano will have it fixed soon.

  6. The thing to worry about is that the data that companies track about you can then be subpoenaed by the government for whatever purposes our rules might have in mind. And, like your library records, could be requested without your being allowed to know about it.
    Just a thought…

  7. The Chrysler Building ‘fig leaf’ on that poster is way over the top.

    Stern really only needed a toothpick to provide the coverage required.

    1. Read the tag-line, dumbass.

  8. The online and off-line privacy notices would have to include a description of the information being collected, why the company was collecting that information, …

    How about including the name(s) of the individual(s) to be sued in the event of a breach of privacy?

  9. This seems to me to be problemattic for libertarians, who usually like their privacy. But I guess the idea here is that we don’t want the government to protect our privacy. But are you guys against invasion of privacy tort actions? If not what’s wrong with setting up the equivalent of it as a regulation, which would mean the offended would not necessarily have to instigate a lawsuit for the right to be enforced (under the American rule of lawyer fees this can be a big deal).

    I guess your idea is “caveat emptor” on the internet; it’s upon each clicker to engage in the liberty-fostering activity of investigating the privacy policies of every website they click on and to exercise manly, wise, rugged clicking, with only themselves to blame if they click on a site which violates their privacy, or something like that…But Jesus, is you dislike of anything associated with the government that important to you?

    1. “I guess your idea is “caveat emptor” on the internet; it’s upon each clicker to engage in the liberty-fostering activity of investigating the privacy policies of every website they click on and to exercise manly, wise, rugged clicking, with only themselves to blame if they click on a site which violates their privacy, or something like that…But Jesus, is you dislike of anything associated with the government that important to you?”

      You’ve got some mixed up ideas here. A website that snoops around on your computer for data without your permission is a violation of your property rights. But it isn’t really clear that that’s what this bill is about. The information it refers to seems to be information that you would be manually providing to the company. The company isn’t snooping around to find out what race you are. This bill seems to be about making companies tell people what they are doing with the data and why, not about protecting privacy.

      1. You do realize that ‘you would be manually providing to the company’ includes, for example, every item you have ever typed into Google, which the company has stored, along with your IP address. This is not paranoia–it’s a fact. That’s why results show up that are related to your geographic area. And Google has that data forever, just ready for a Federal subpoena.
        So ‘what data you provide’ is fairly widely defined. Searching for ‘bomb making materials’, ‘anthrax’ or such like could get you a visit from our larger brother.
        Not that I necessarily think this law is a good thing–I just think folks have no idea what kinds of data are being collected that are not based on filling out forms with careful privacy statements located somewhere on the screen.
        And, of course, privacy statements tend to be web sites, which are subject to change without notice, so if you’ve agreed to some particular use of your data, you need to know it could be changed without your having any say in it.

        1. You do realize that no one is *manually* providing “every item you have ever typed into Google,” right? And that that kind of data is not what this bill is about, right?

          If you’re going to reply to someone’s comment, at least try to understand what they are saying…

  10. The right to privacy strikes me tonight as especially interesting for libertarians. Not problemattic is when the right is asserted against government entities. But what is interesting is the right vis-a-vis other private actors. If there is such a right, it would be enforced by TEH EVIL WICKED GUBMNIT by one private party against another private party. This invites the government into this area, and recognizes that the government may be the best tool to protect an individual’s rights, and rights between private actors to boot.

    Of course, all this applies to basic contract, tort, property, etc., law. Which demonstrates something I’ve long said: government, far from being TEH EVIL, is fundamental to any sensible libertaian theory.

    1. Meanwhile, the FCC wants control of the internet.

      You were saying, MNG?

    2. “government, far from being TEH EVIL, is fundamental to any sensible libertaian theory.”

      Only the right kind of government, MNG, not this government.

    3. You are right. Most libertarians are not anarchists.

  11. LOL, if EVER there was a time to start masking your ISP in ANYTHING you do online this is the time. The FBI is pressuring ISPs to all ALL user traffic for 2 years.

    Read more at http://www.ultimate-privacy.net/privacynews.htm

  12. LOL, if EVER there was a time to start masking your ISP in ANYTHING you do online this is the time. The FBI is pressuring ISPs to all ALL user traffic for 2 years.

    Read more at http://www.ultimate-privacy.net/privacynews.htm

  13. No doubt about it, if there was ever a time to mask your real IP address in anything you do online, now is it. The FBI is pressuring ISPs to log ALL user traffic for 2 years!

    Read more at http://www.being-anonymous.at.tc/privacynews.htm

  14. Ras H. Tafari, do we have to be contrarian about everything. If I want a company to have more information about me to better serve me, I’ll give it to them. It doesn’t hurt them to let me know what’s going to happen to the info.

    1. As long as one person that will be affected by this law is against it, libertarians should be against it too. This has nothing really to do with the content of the law, but the fact that it will be forced on someone against their will.

  15. If the government is so worried about privacy, it could start by reducing the census form to one question, “How many people live here?”, and getting replacing our current income tax laws with a flat tax.

    1. Although I did enjoy writing “Na’vi” as my race this year. Next time I will simply write human, if no topically humorous substitute exists.

  16. As a rule of thumb, I’ll freely reveal information that identifies me as one in about one million. For example, I live in Bergen County, NJ with a population of 700,000. Revealing that doesn’t reduce my privacy noticably. If you want my street address, you’re out of luck.

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