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Free Minds & Free Markets

Debate: Corporate Data Collection Poses a Threat to Personal Freedom

There are lots of reasons to be concerned about government snooping, but how should we feel when private companies do it?

AFFIRMATIVE:
Big Corporations Want Your Data. Don't Give It to Them.

J.D. Tuccille

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonIf I forget where I've been shopping online, I can just head over to Facebook. Ads on the social networking site will quickly remind me what I've been browsing, and perhaps even offer a coupon code to help close the deal. I appreciate the discounts, but I'm creeped out by the thought of the profile that can be stitched together from the sites that I visit.

Libertarians rightly fret about government databases that assemble sensitive information about finances, movements, and beliefs. That information can be weaponized against individuals for official purposes (hello, J. Edgar Hoover!) or for personal gain and amusement. It's also a treasure trove for hackers, as we've seen with breaches to the IRS and the federal Office of Personnel Management. We have no choice but to supply the state with the data it demands and hope for the best.

If you're concerned about privacy, however, it's apparent that we don't have a lot more choice when it comes to private sector data collection. And while the threat there is different than the one posed by intrusive government programs, it's still worth worrying about—and taking steps to protect yourself.

Loan applications, credit card transactions, and surfed websites contribute pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of our lives. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica hookup illustrated how sought-after those puzzle pieces are for the targeted marketing of products—and politicians. The 2017 hack of credit monitoring company Equifax compromised the personal data, including tax identification and Social Security numbers, of nearly 150 million people. Criminal pilfering of credit agency databases demonstrates that data collection doesn't have to be mandated by law to be perilous.

Credit agencies, banks, social media companies, marketers—there's a long list of independent agencies who don't need legal bludgeons to extract our data from us. Keeping our private information out of their hands might be possible, but only by living a cash-only, near-Luddite existence.

Some digital privacy hawks have argued that personal data should be treated like property. There's something appealing about the idea that we should have control over the use of information that might be sensitive, or dangerous, or just embarrassing. But data doesn't exist in a discrete, physical form. It's knowledge, and knowledge can be effortlessly replicated and distributed—including in people's minds. How would we control that?

One possibility, suggested by Mark Skilton, an information systems professor at Warwick Business School in the U.K., is to separate the right to possess your personal information from the right to grant permission to others for its use. "New personal data services will evolve to track and better enable people to manage their data while maintaining security and privacy," he predicts.

That could work for, say, Social Security numbers or other keys to our identities. But much of the personal information over which people worry involves interactions with other people. Records of what we bought are also records of what other people sold. Accounts of where we travel are also accounts of who transported us or rented us a room. If we can control data about our purchases, can vendors also restrict what we say about their role in the deal? If so then good luck, Yelp.

We get a glimpse of the pitfalls in this approach from the implementation of the European Union's Data Protection Regulation, intended to give individuals control over personally identifiable information—"anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, your posts on social networking websites, your medical information, or your computer's IP address," according to the European Commission. Compliance has proven challenging, especially for small businesses, which have struggled to navigate the law's bureaucratic complexities far more than tech behemoths like Facebook and Google.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna Andreasson

So creating an obstacle course of red tape may not be the most effective way to go. Not unless we're trying to entrench big firms and create a full-employment act for lawyers, that is.

But such difficulties in implementation don't erase legitimate concerns about the collection and use of our data. Nobody wants his identity stolen because a company can't be bothered to safeguard a massive store of hacker-bait. And political profiles assembled from our online activities pose the distinct danger of putting targets on our backs in an era when "partisans fixate on the goal of defeating and even humiliating the opposition at all costs," as Stanford University's Shanto Iyengar and Masha Krupenkin wrote recently in Advances in Political Psychology.

What to do?

Enhanced liability for companies that compile sensitive data but fail to adequately secure it seems appropriate. Anybody who sees enough value in gathering such information that they build a business model around it should be expected to take measures to keep it safe. If they don't, they should be prepared to pay the price.

Still, we all need to be smart about distributing our information and managing our own brands. Using social media is, of course, far from a necessity. But if you do, there are ways to limit the ability of tech industry voyeurs to look into your life.

Those Facebook ads become a lot more generic if you install the Facebook Container Firefox add-on to isolate the social media giant from the rest of your online activity. Anti-tracking extensions like Ghostery and any of numerous ad blockers help you use the internet without leaving trails of breadcrumbs wherever you go. So does favoring a privacy-respecting search engine like DuckDuckGo over Google.

It's also possible to smudge the outlines of your profile with simple actions such as sharing your supermarket loyalty card—if you choose to use one—with the friendly folks behind you in line. The gas credits are nice, and let the marketers grapple with your apparent ownership of ten cats and inexplicable thirst for white zinfandel. After all, profiles of our lives are only as accurate as the data fed into them.

Those of us who care about our privacy will always be torn over what we should share with the world. There are no perfect solutions, but we can certainly make efforts to manage our brands, and to make marketers doubt the reliability of their profiles by actively tainting them with false information.

NEGATIVE:
Corporate Collection of Big Data Makes Your Life Better

Declan McCullagh

At this very moment in Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York, Zurich, Tel Aviv, or Tokyo, a software engineer is puzzling out better ways to use large amounts of personal data about you and billions of other people. Our engineer's goal is to make your life a little more convenient: Your phone will do a better job of searching your photos, avoiding traffic, or suggesting books to read.

Private data collection done with the user's consent isn't spying. It's a way of figuring out what individual customers want and need to serve them better.

These abilities are powered by a type of analysis called machine learning. Its statistical techniques are capable of identifying patterns in data that previously required human intelligence to discover. In general, the more data—sound clips, photographs, Uber rides, and so on—used for training the system, the better its internal models will become and the more useful the results will be. When executed well, it's nearly magical. When done poorly, well, we're all very sorry you were asked if you wanted to buy Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village, Tenth Anniversary Edition.

Machine learning techniques are still rudimentary, but they're improving all the time. Google's Eric Schmidt predicted in 2016 that they will underpin "every successful, huge" initial public offering during the next few years, and he might be right. The limits of the different techniques—which go by names like neural nets, ensemble learning, and support vector machines—have yet to be reached. But in general, additional data mean better results. The more a system knows about you, the more it helps.

In a few years, a virtual assistant may place and receive phone calls on your behalf, send emails, drive your car, and diagnose medical conditions. This is not general-purpose artificial intelligence like we see in science fiction, but it can still be useful. And your future assistant will do a better job if you let it access personal information about you.

Every major technology company I'm familiar with uses machine learning techniques. Amazon uses them for product recommendations, personalized ads, Alexa, and its Amazon Go physical store. Twitter uses them to create personalized timelines. Netflix uses them to improve streaming quality and to personalize not only movies but also the on-screen artwork displayed for each movie. Facebook uses them to recognize your friends' faces and generate street addresses from satellite imagery. Yelp uses them to improve image classification (so restaurant photographs uploaded by users are categorized properly). Thanks to off-the-shelf services like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services, machine learning employing large data sets already has become the foundation of personalized computing.

"Private data collection done with the user's consent isn't spying. It's a way of figuring out what individual customers want and need to serve them better."

Some libertarians may like the trade-off involved in sharing personal data in exchange for recommendations or virtual assistants. Other libertarians may not. But the choice should be yours: Your idiosyncratic dislike of someone else's personal preferences does not qualify as a compelling reason to demand government intervention.

None of this should be taken as a defense of companies that lie about what they're doing, conceal important details, or fail to adequately protect their users' information. Laws prohibiting fraud remain libertarian-compatible, and the tort bar will be happy to pounce on misfeasance. An example from 2005: Sony BMG failed to disclose that its CD copy protection contained a so-called rootkit, which introduced vulnerabilities and leaked user data. It was a braindead corporate decision, made worse by management's initial response, which ended with Sony writing settlement checks for up to $50 million.

By now, astute readers will have realized that there is a potential privacy problem separate from corporate blundering: If large quantities of your data are remotely stored on servers, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will surely demand the ability to gain access. Worse, the privacy threat increases with the volume and sensitivity of the data. The very information that allows a virtual assistant to operate efficiently—your spending habits, political and religious views, and minute-by-minute location—is a target for a legal, or perhaps even extralegal, fishing expedition.

One response would be to enact a law curbing what information third parties can collect. But that makes as much sense as preventing companies from manufacturing binoculars simply because police can use them for spying.

The more sensible approach is to curb government surveillance. That means taking steps such as updating the Privacy Act of 1974 to limit government access to outsourced databases; increasing the authority of inspectors general at federal agencies to monitor abuses; boosting criminal penalties for lawbreaking officials; and perhaps most important, rethinking the drug laws that continue to invite snooping into our personal lives. (In 2017, over half of the 3,813 federal and state wiretaps reported to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts were for drug-related offenses. Investigations into violent crimes, including homicide, robbery, assault, and kidnapping, amounted to less than 10 percent of the total, though these figures do not include wiretaps done under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.)

Another crucial fix is to provide a broader legal shield protecting personal data held by third parties. This is happening, albeit slowly. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that police needed a warrant supported by probable cause before they could obtain cell-site records (which revealed location information) from a man's wireless carrier. And since the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals' 2010 ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, technology companies generally require prosecutors to obtain warrants signed by judges—not mere subpoenas—before divulging the content of email messages.

In the long run, as we share more with our virtual assistants, perhaps certain deeply personal data should simply become off-limits to the government. This would follow other legal privileges, including the attorney-client privilege, the marital privilege, the clergy privilege (protecting both formal confessions as in the Catholic Church and confidential communications to other clerics), the accountant-client privilege, and the physician-patient privilege. These are not absolute; exceptions exist for future crime or fraud, and a privilege can be waived in other ways.

The real danger in exabyte-scale data collection coupled with advances in machine learning isn't from private companies attempting to learn your preferences. It's when governments, probably led by China, start to really figure it out.

The enabling technology is increasingly available to anyone who wants it. A generation ago, automatic license plate recognition was the stuff of Hollywood thrillers. Now anyone can download the code for free. I'm thinking of installing it on an extra computer to recognize cars pulling into my driveway. If I might do this in my spare time, what will the government come up with when it actually puts some thought into it?

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson

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  • Rockabilly||

    Me, I like to mess with them. They're just point heads trying to figure out 'human nature.'

    So whatever I think, I just tell them the opposite.

    What's your favorite color? - why pink of course (wink wink)

    And how often do you go out to eat? Well, it depends if she took a bath on her privates.

    No sir, that's not what I meant. Do you eat at restaurants? Oh, all the time (wink wink) every night.

    I also fill out forms wrong, etc. etc.


    See how much fun that'd be for you and how messed up there figuring would be?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Same here.

    All the 'help' that the tech companies want to give me is 9/10 not something I need or want.

    I dont want tvs in refrigerators; my car to have a bunch of Nanny alerts for seat belts, etc; or any of my online activity to be anything but anonymous.

    There is not reason why cell phones cannot be tied to accounts only with billing addresses instead of more personal info. The government wants all cell phones tied to actual persons, so criminal activity via phones can be tracked. These companies have played along.

    All my vehicles are in my company's name to provide some anonymity on the roadways.

  • Agammamon||

    In the US, if you get a pre-paid phone you can do exactly that - its the monthly billing that makes them want all that info for 'credit-worthiness' checks.

    When I was living in Italy I had to apply for an Italian tax ID number in order to get even a pre-paid phone.

  • DenverJ||

    I think even prepaid phones you have to call and prove your identity before they will turn it on.

  • JFree||

    Our engineer's goal is to make your life a little more convenient

    No it isn't. His goal is to make a ton of money by selling my eyeballs.

  • JFree||

    More importantly - everything in modern mass culture - now driven by tech - is based on the idea that man is NOT rational. We are an animal driven by instincts and impulses and fears and such. Lizards don't have 'freedom' nor do domesticated animals. That is all we are to those who understand how our brain actually works and responds to external stimuli. We can be manipulated into actions and behaviors that we do not even understand/realize we are doing.

    The notion that there is some qualitative difference between big private corporations and big government is rather quaint. If they know how our brains work and how to manipulate us (and they do) - and they have the resources to collect the bits of data they need to effect that manipulation - they can do pretty much whatever they want and you, the self-perceived individual, are irrelevant. If Edward Bernays (creator of public relations - nephew of Freud) can use the same skill set to goose support for our participation in WW1, get women to smoke, make Guatemala safe for United Fruit, make the bacon-and-eggs breakfast 'normal'; then what exactly is the difference between govt and private. Just different customers.

    Everything about modern mass society is destructive of personal freedom. It is based on manipulating the mob. Do not pretend for a second that it doesn't work or that you are superior to all that.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There is a difference. Governments have a monopoly on coercion, for one, even if they do rent it out for cronies. Corporations which could otherwise go out of business, or just lose business, for publicity missteps, can wave enough money and influence at government to survive what would otherwise teach salutary lessons.

    Governments also do things for irrational reasons for more than corporations do. Just as truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to sound plausible; so is government more capricious and arbitrary than business because business policies have to sound plausible to be adopted. Ban plastic straws? Any fast food joint which did that would lose customers. Double their electric bill because the CEO had green visions? They'd either lose profits or customers, take their pick, and their competitors would eat their lunch.

    As usual, coercive monopolistic government is at the root of all evil. Markets correct mistakes; government is immune until it goes so crazy as to invoke revolution and that's extremely unlikely in the interwoven society of today.

  • JFree||

    You're basically invoking a pre-industrial view of that difference. A more accurate view in a modern mass society is technocratic. As Lippmann wrote in Public Opinion That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.. Let me assure you, a century after that was written, the skills/knowledge available today to blur the line between consent and coercion is magnitudes more than then.

    I really would like to see libertarians get out of the 19th century a bit. For a lot of obvious reasons, libertarians aren't inclined towards even understanding social/group phenomena - or any notion of the human as mere animal. But that failure to understand the thing also makes us irrelevant and doddering in positing a 'solution' respecting the individual.

    Kind of the same as libertarian ideas re 'non-intervention' in foreign policy. As long as we refuse to remotely understand what is going on in the world, then non-intervention is the obvious policy - but in truth it is based more on blissful ignorance and my dog is as credible a source of foreign policy advice.

  • Agammamon||

    If you believe that groups of private individuals need to be reined in because they have too much power, and that the mob *can't possibly* choose to ignore them - then no matter what you call the organization that you cede power to in order to control those other organizations, libertarianism is dead.

  • JFree||

    Not sure that's the only option. Better would be for libertarians to use the tools/skills/etc that has built the mob/mass - to break the mob/mass - and to sell liberty on the same emotional/impulsive/etc basis that's been used to sell everything from products to policies in a mass society.

    Absent that - yeah I am prob pessimistic about the individual and/or liberty

  • Agammamon||

    If people can 'break' then there isn't a problem with corporations being able to control people because people wouldn't be Pavlovian stimulus-response machines.

    That is all we are to those who understand how our brain actually works and responds to external stimuli. We can be manipulated into actions and behaviors that we do not even understand/realize we are doing.

    If you're saying that is true then libertarianism is dead and all there is is one power bloc or another using mind-control to vie for power. As such, does it really matter if its a private corporation or a 'government' and at that point, what would be the difference?

  • JFree||

    isn't a problem with corporations being able to control people because people wouldn't be Pavlovian stimulus-response machines.

    Did you know that, over the course of a day, rats deliver nicotine to themselves (pressing levers rather than smoking/vaping) EXACTLY on the same schedule/pacing/intakes that humans do. With, for the addicted rats, the same stresses as humans if something goes wrong with that schedule.

    Are we more rational than rats? I fucking hope so. But if you really do want to study how people are manipulated - or hell a slew of other issues important to libertarians, there's prob no better case-study than the cigarette industry from WW1 (its origin - and coincidentally also the origin of modern mass marketing) to now.

  • Sevo||

    JFree|9.23.18 @ 10:23AM|#
    "The notion that there is some qualitative difference between big private corporations and big government is rather quaint."

    Only to am imbecile; the government has guns.
    ----------------------------------
    "Everything about modern mass society is destructive of personal freedom. It is based on manipulating the mob. Do not pretend for a second that it doesn't work or that you are superior to all that."

    That says 'way more about you than it does anyone else.

  • JFree||

    HAHAHAHA. The propaganda spewing puppet voices his individual opinion.

  • Sevo||

    Only responding to the imbecile as the imbecile deserves.
    Tell me, you fucking ignoramus, when was the last time a KKKorpurashun demanded your information at gun-point?
    I'll be checking back; pretty sure it's going to be crickets.

  • Sevo||

    Hey, lefty ignoramus! Still waiting for an answer!

  • Sevo||

    "The propaganda spewing puppet voices his individual opinion."

    The lefty fucking ignoramus can't seem to provide any evidence for his bullshit.
    Still waiting...

  • mtrueman||

    You want folks to respond to you, ask them nicely. It's always worked for me.

  • Sevo||

    Hey, lefty ignoramus! Do you always run away when you're called on your bullshit?

  • Sevo||

    JFree! Calling JFree! Asshole ping! JFree!

  • Sevo||

    JFree! bailed out, did you, you fucking liar.

  • Sevo||

    Hey, Jfuckup! Just checking back, since I mentioned that you are a fucking liar on a 9/28 thread.
    Still a fucking lefty liar JFuckup?

  • Mark22||

    Debate: Corporate Data Collection Poses a Threat to Personal Freedom

    Next:

    Debate: Eating food poses a threat to your health.

    Debate: Interacting with other people poses a threat to your safety.

    Debate: Driving poses a threat to your life.

  • Rob Misek||

    "We have no choice but to supply the state with the data it demands and hope for the best."

    Spoken like a true part of the problem.

    Or, we can criminalize lying and empower everyone to voluntarily record everything we witness everywhere we go.

    Then to all corruption we can boldly state, "you can run but you can't hide". The solution.

  • Don't look at me.||

    The only way corporate data collection could endanger your freedom is if corporations had guns and jails like governments do. That's where the threats come from.

  • prolefeed||

    Or the corporations colluded with govt and handed over the data.

    But, yeah, if you can't enforce arbitrary edicts because you have guns and have a free pass on using them, your power is quite limited.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Not just that but corporation actively prevent competition from entering the market and then cozy up to government to form pseudo government agencies that violate rights when governments could not legally do so.

  • Echospinner||

    The distinction between corporations and government is not so bright and at some point they are just extensions of each other. This is not new. What was the British East India Company for example. Corporations have also hired mercenaries for various reasons around the world functioning as their own private armies.

    When a corporation wants to build on your land who actually seizes it if you refuse to sell?

    Data mining and cyberwar are no different. Public and private are increasingly intertwined.

  • Sevo||

    Echospinner|9.23.18 @ 4:48PM|#
    "The distinction between corporations and government is not so bright..."

    Only an imbecile makes that claim.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    For anyone interested in a fun dystopia, I recommend All Rights Reserved, about a future where almost all words are copyrighted and everyone has to wear a bracelet starting at age 15 which totes up your bill in real time. It also observes gestures, fines you for mouthing words instead of saying them, etc. Books don't exist except by special license for a few rich people, because words and letters can be cut out and rearranged in violation of copyright, but there's no description of writing or typing on keyboards. The ending's predictable but a little abrupt and not well thought out, but otherwise it's fun and a good read.

    I've worked at places where you had to be pretty careful of what you said around certain sensitive snowflakes, and I think it's especially good at describing how it would feel to live such an exaggerated daily life. It's no more realistic than other dystopias about the dystopia itself; no society could get close to it without reality diverting it, and the story even admits that innovation would grind to a halt with all the automatic patent, trademark, and copyright enforcement.

  • Agammamon||

    Its sounds like 'Elysium' - a story based on a reductio ad absurdum. I find those are rarely anything other than ridiculous. If nothing because they usually deliberately ignore any natural consequence (ie, in Elysium there is either perfect medical care or basically no medical care and nothing in between despite there being a massive demand for medical tech that's otherwise obsolete on the big space station) that gets in the way of their reduction.

  • sarcasmic||

    Corporations are going to use my personal information to anticipate my wants and needs, and then try sell stuff to me. Best case scenario I buy some really cool stuff. Worst case scenario I don't buy anything.

    Government is going to use my personal information to find an excuse steal my stuff or lock me in a cage. Best case scenario they leave me alone. Worst case scenario they kill me.

    Yeah. Like so similar and stuff, you know?

  • Don't look at me.||

    +

  • perlchpr||

    This isn't a debate. Corporate data collection poses a threat to personal freedom. The end. The question is what to do about it from a philosophically consistent position.

  • Shirley Knott||

    What threat is posed?

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Corporations are notorious for cooperating with bad guys with guns. And encouraging them by helping find new targets for said guns.

  • Sevo||

    Kyfho Myoba|9.23.18 @ 2:28PM|#
    "Corporations are notorious for cooperating with bad guys with guns. And encouraging them by helping find new targets for said guns."

    Assholes like this are notorious for cooperating with the bad guys with guns. And crediting their bullshit is only an encouragement to other ignoramuses.

  • sarcasmic||

    How can corporations threaten your freedom?

    Many say that corporations can enslave us as if it a self-evident fact. But I don't see it that way. Corporations cannot use force. They can influence government which can use force, but then it is government, not the corporations, that are threatening your freedom.

  • JFree||

    How can corporations threaten your freedom?

    The same way Pavlov made dogs salivate.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Yeah, cause Pavlovian conditioning works so well on humans.
    There remains a profound difference between coercion and marketing.

  • JFree||

    Whew! Good thing then that humans have learned absolutely nothing about how to manipulate the brains of other humans in the last 120 years

  • Sevo||

    JFree|9.23.18 @ 2:32PM|#
    "Whew! Good thing then that humans have learned absolutely nothing about how to manipulate the brains of other humans in the last 120 years."

    JFree is a fucking ignoramus who can be lead to vote for Trump by lame gifs, therefore the ignoramus who is JFree assumes everyone is as much an ignoramus has he is.
    Hint: No. You're an ignoramus; many others aren't.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Well, yes. There seems to be this really weird believe among "libertarians" that marketing and non-violent manipulation doesn't work. It's baffling.

  • Sevo||

    EscherEnigma|9.24.18 @ 12:47PM|#
    "Well, yes. There seems to be this really weird believe among "libertarians" that marketing and non-violent manipulation doesn't work. It's baffling."
    There seems to be a stupidity among lefty ignoramuses that people act like dogs. I think that says a lot about lefty ignoramuses, lefty ignoramus.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    When Corporations formed as a public trust become de facto agents of the state.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Bingp!!!!!! We have a winner!!!!!!

  • Sevo||

    Kyfho Myoba|9.23.18 @ 2:28PM|#
    "Bingp!!!!!! We have a winner!!!!!!"

    Bingo, we have a new ignoramus.

  • Sevo||

    loveconstitution1789|9.23.18 @ 2:22PM|#
    "When Corporations formed as a public trust become de facto agents of the state."

    Righty brain-dead assertions are no more arguments than those from the left, right brain-dead.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You convinced me. Good job.

  • Sevo||

    loveconstitution1789|9.24.18 @ 12:44AM|#
    "You convinced me. Good job."

    Convincing ignoramuses is easy, ignoramus.
    Are you proud of it or just so stupid you don't know how stupid you are?
    How stupid do you strive to be? With more practice, I'm sure you can reach a room-temperature IQ.
    Fuck off, imbecile.

  • perlchpr||

    By collecting lots of personal data and failing to secure it properly, for one thing.

  • prolefeed||

    This is literally a debate here.

  • perlchpr||

    OK, I suppose technically one could have a debate about whether the Earth was flat, too...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its a quick debate. The Earth is round as seen from space and multiple other ways to determine this.

  • Agammamon||

    Don't buy anything.

  • ||

    "On this episode of "YOUR WELCOME" Michael Malice is joined by documentary filmmaker Matt Taylor and psychologist, professor and author Dr. Robert Epstein to talk about the documentary "The Creepy Line" which delves into how online powerhouses like Google and Facebook's practices pose a serious threat to society."
    Podcast: On The Internet - Matt Taylor and Dr. Robert Epstein (Audio) (Video)

    The Creepy Line (Trailer)

    "I haven't received a targeted ad on my computer or mobile phone for more than two years now. If you care about your privacy — or even if you're just sick of being bombarded by ads for diet pills seconds after you send an email to a friend complaining that your pants are too tight — here are seven simple steps you can take to make your online presence more private:"
    Seven Simple Steps Toward Online Privacy

  • Ken Shultz||

    Apart from this bit, "Enhanced liability for companies that compile sensitive data but fail to adequately secure it seems appropriate", no one seems to be offering up anything like government solutions to this. Part of me thinks that's a good thing. Part of me thinks that if the government has any legitimate purpose, it's to protect our rights. Maybe the issue is that there isn't much the government can do to protect our right to privacy--from ourselves and our own bad choices. How is the government supposed to protect the privacy of people who consent to apps that read their gmail?

    Options to protect your own privacy continue to emerge. This is a new and excellent one:

    http://hackernoon.com/leaving-.....e39f492c6f

    Perhaps the biggest problem with protecting our privacy is the same problem all other libertarian issues face--a large number of people are reluctant to accept responsibility for their own choices. They don't want freedom of choice. They want freedom from choice. Perfect privacy may be both unattainable and undesirable, but you will never get the mix you want unless you exercise your agency. Let other people make your choices for you, and they'll pick what they want.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Meanwhile, there is a great risk of people becoming complacent about the new norm being no privacy and that seeping into public policy. After all, the reason the government started tracking our phone calls and sifting through our emails wasn't because the Fourth Amendment was repealed--it was because doing so became technologically possible and protecting us from terrorism became a legitimate excuse to violate the Fourth Amendment in the minds of many.

    Techno-optimists aren't doing the cause of libertarianism any favors by downplaying the threats of new technology to our rights. All this technology that companies are using is accessible to this and future governments for their own purposes. Anything the government can use under the pretense of making us safer will eventually be proposed for use. Before we convince people to embrace and defend their freedom of choice in the face of threats like that, we probably need to convince them that their right to make a choice is under legitimate threat from a new technology.

    Because some people might use those threats to argue that we should use the government to restrict the choices of people who want to use those technologies is not a good reason to pretend that legitimate threats from those technologies don't exist.

  • Echospinner||

    I think that ship has already sailed.

    People don't care about something that might happen or is happening to someone else.

  • SusanM||

    Until it's too late to do anything about it, naturally.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Our mixed-economy corporations, the ones financing the two looter parties, would NEV-AH turn our data over to government Gestapo goons even under duress. I have faith in their courage and integrity.

  • Qsl||

    So how does this notion of data collection fit into concepts like harassment and libel? I mean fair enough that Google is going to be inherently aware of my apparent fondness for interracial gay midget rodeo clown porn, but transmitting that information to a third party (especially without verification of authenticity) is a different ball of wax. Even private individuals have limits on the degree and methods of information they can collect before stalking and harassment laws come into effect.

    So how does that work?

  • AxelJones||

    Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al are corporations in name only. They are the equivalent of the private citizen who breaks into your house and then reports on your drug activity to the cops to bypass the requirement of a warrant. Call them what they are - Narcs, rats, finks, agents-in-fact, or CIs.

    When you actively collude with the government to violate the civil rights of others you are no longer just a private citizen or a private corporation.

  • Sevo||

    AxelJones|9.23.18 @ 2:15PM|#
    "Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al are corporations in name only...."

    AxelJones is a fucking ignoramus in name and in fact.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Corporations are business entities formed because The People allow them to form and are a privilege. This is different than regular companies that have liabilities tied to the owner and should as free from government regulation as possible.

    Corporations fall under anti-trust rules because they were formed under a public trust relationship. When corporations seek monopolistic behavior or become crony capitalists, anti-trust is a tool to hold the corporation officers accountable.

    Google has fucked up royally. If Google would make focus on making money, follow its charter and avoiding breaking the law, Google could do what it wanted. Instead Google decided to influence elections and become a de facto agency of the Deep State. Anti-trust is coming for ya.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Good start on the explanation. Key point: Every corporation has (MUST have) in its charter that its purpose is "for the public good" - that is the price for its grant of the privilege of limited liability.

  • Agammamon||

    So, nu. Tell me, what is 'the public good' and who gets to make up that definition?

  • Agammamon||

    So, nu. Tell me, what is 'the public good' and who gets to make up that definition?

  • Sevo||

    Kyfho Myoba|9.23.18 @ 2:33PM|#
    "Good start on the explanation. Key point: Every corporation has (MUST have) in its charter that its purpose is "for the public good" - that is the price for its grant of the privilege of limited liability."

    Uh, the corporation is NOT granted limited liability, added to Agammomon's comment.
    Wanna try again?

  • El Oso||

    I stay up nights worrying about it. Don't you?

  • Jerryskids||

    We know what you stay up late at night doing.

  • Anti-Fasciitis||

    Nice to see Reason taking a breather from the privatecompaniescandowhatevertheywant mantra.

    It'll be back when the topic turns to discrimination against conservatives and actual libertarians.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Yeah, Equifax. No problem there.

    Want to hear how bad it can get? The Social Security Administration allows account holders to set up as registered users, and conveniently do business online. The catch is, the SSA is very, very picky about privacy, making it quite difficult to set up an account, either online, or over the phone.

    As an extra precaution—built into the process to screen out imposters and identity thieves—is a stage where the would-be account holder gets quizzed on his own private financial history, with multiple-choice questions about previous addresses, old loans, etc. The data demanded are so obscure, and go back so far, that a Social Security helper told me almost everyone fails the test, and has to go instead with personal documentation to a Social Security office, and get business taken care of that way.

    But here is the punch line. The test that pops up on your computer screen, to qualify you for your Social Security account, and to make sure you are who you say you are, isn't being administered by Social Security. It is being administered by Equifax—the very company that recklessly put millions upon millions of private records into the hands of hackers who stole them to facilitate identity theft. You probably can't pass the test, but a hacker who stole your records from Equifax sure can.

  • Sevo||

    "But here is the punch line. The test that pops up on your computer screen, to qualify you for your Social Security account, and to make sure you are who you say you are, isn't being administered by Social Security. It is being administered by Equifax—the very company that recklessly put millions upon millions of private records into the hands of hackers who stole them to facilitate identity theft. You probably can't pass the test, but a hacker who stole your records from Equifax sure can."

    so the government isn't even capable of contracting with outfits more competent than it is? Is that your point?
    Thanks.

  • mtrueman||

    I feel those 'capcha' things to identify you as human on webpages are a threat to freedom. They used to be easy to complete and recently I noticed them getting more difficult and time consuming to solve. Solving capchas of the future may take up a good part of the day, if artificial intelligence manages to keep up its pace of development. This could be a significant loss of free time.

  • annismith123||

    Why Data Collecting Can Be Dangerous For Personal Freedom?

  • EscherEnigma||

    That this is a "debate" is hilarious.

    Yes, personal data collection impacts your personal liberty.

    No, it's far too late to do anything meaningful about it.

    The cat is well and truly out of the bag, the rabit out of the hat, the horses fled the barn, and so-on.

    And let's not pretend this is new either. Credit scores weren't inventred in the nineties, and even before the internet there were stories about fathers learning their daughters were pregnant because they suddenly started receiving junk mail advertisements about maternity goods.

    So yeah. It's too late.

  • Sevo||

    EscherEnigma|9.24.18 @ 12:43PM|#
    "That this is a "debate" is hilarious."

    Your stupidity is more so. Assertions from lefty ignoramuses =/= argument.
    You have simply shown you swallow "Nightly News at 9" as fact.
    You should not be allowed to vote.

  • Richard Stallman||

    Once a personal data base is collected, it WILL be misused.
    Here are four important channels for misuse:

    * By the organization that collected the data. Its plans may
    do people harm.

    * By rogue employees. Illegal, but it happens.

    * By thieves.

    * By the state. The US under the PAT RIOT act can take most data
    bases. It can also bully organizations into handing data over. Many
    other states do likewise.

    Privacy laws would struggle to limit the first channel, and would do
    no good against the other three. The only data base that isn't

    dangerous is the one that is never collected at all.

    ||See reply for more||

  • Richard Stallman||

    "Consent" is ineffective at protecting our privacy because industry
    has become expert at manufacturing consent. If Uber succeeds in
    replacing taxis and buses and private cars, you will have no way to
    travel without being tracked, except walking.

    Many surveillance systems, such as cameras aimed at the public street
    or in and around stores, now with face recognition, don't even ask for consent. By watching us, they make all of us less secure. This
    affects especially dissidents and whistleblowers -- heroes of
    democracy. Indirectly, we all lose freedom if those heroes are defeated.

    I therefore call for laws to limit the _collection_ of personal data.
    Businesses must allow anonymous purchase of of their products and
    services. Cameras installed to watch public places must not feed data
    bases.

    See https://gnu.org/philosophy/ surveillance-vs-democracy.html for more
    explanation.

  • Justified & Ancient||

    "Recommendations" are always wrong for me, but I'm glad.

    The statement "It's a way of figuring out what individual customers want and need to serve them better" is disgustingly patronizing; such subterfuge is what I hate most about the practice. At least be honest about it.

  • ranjchandra||