Wasting time on privacy issues

Wasting time on privacy issues

Summary: At the D10 conference, FTC Chairman Leibowitz boasted that the agency bullied Facebook into adopting an opt-in privacy policy. This is a complete waste of time and money.

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I think I was the last person on the planet to hear about "D." Now in its tenth year (those in the know just call it "D10") The Wall Street Journal’s "D: All Things Digital" conference was, apparently, the place to be last week. D1 through D9 had escaped my notice, but by freak coincidence three people told me last week that they were "heading to D10," as if I was supposed to know what that meant. Luckily, with the aid of Google, I was able to reply to their emails as if I knew what I was talking about.

If aliens wanted to abduct and study a large percentage of the smartest people in the world at once, they'd grab the speakers and audience at D. The list of genius speakers is seemingly endless: Nathan Myhrvold, Larry Ellison, Mike Bloomberg, Aaron Sorkin... The audience is full of the people who give TED talks, run hedge funds and generally do better in life than most of us have done.

One of the smart people giving a talk at D10 was United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz. Very bright, accomplished guy. He spoke, among other things, about the FTC's achievements, for example pushing Facebook to require opt-in for privacy policy changes. Here's how it was reported:

Leibowitz pointed to a ruling on Facebook that has helped consumers. Now, when Facebook makes a privacy policy change, the company has to provide users and opt-in (not a pre-checked opt-out) before users can continue. Facebook also has to provide users with a copy of the data the social network has on them if they ask for it. Leibowitz reminded the audience that his agency is responsible for these changes.

So, here's my question:

If D10 was full of so many smart people, why didn't they all burst out laughing at that moment?

Forgive me, but Leibowitz's boast indicates to me that the FTC is an agency desperately in need of some prioritization. The FTC has an annual budget of $256.2 million, and this is how they spend it? Really, taxpayer money is being allocated to making Facebook's privacy policy changes opt-in instead of opt-out? And to what end? Facebook users will all of a sudden reconsider their use of social media and stop posting intimate, exhausting details of their lives? Advertising space on Facebook will become worth a little less money? We'll have to check yet another box in an online form we won't read?

There's a lot more to say about online privacy, but it's worth keeping one big idea in mind: Facebook is free. The millions of end users who enjoy it, and Twitter, Google services, and a million other online offerings, don't pay a penny for them. Instead, they are required to look at, or avoid looking at, advertisements. The judicious acquisition and analysis of user data is what allows these companies to sell their ad space. It's a business model that works for me, and if you're reading this it works for you too.

So, let it work.

Topic: Social Enterprise

Steven Shaw

About Steven Shaw

Steven Shaw used to be a litigation attorney at Cravath, Swaine &gMoore, a New York law firm, and is now the online community managergfor eGullet.org and the Director of New Media Studies at thegInternational Culinary Center.

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10 comments
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  • Privacy first...

    It puts itself in-line with EU regulations as well.

    The biggest problem with Facebook (and one of the reasons I left) was the always setting my fairly locked down privacy settings (who can see what) were automatically being set to share all, when new options arrived on the scene.

    This was a good move on the FCCs part. I agree, we are using these services for free, but that doesn't mean they should automatically start diseminating my information, every time a new feature appears. That should be my decision, whether I want to enable the sharing of that information or not.
    wright_is
  • Privacy

    There is no privacy on FB. There is no way to verify what they are doing with your data. Its a free web page to post your pictures and comments. That's it. Privacy was never part of the feature list.
    Cranstone
    • SecuShare and other alternatives

      If only there were a way we could convince people to use options like SecuShare (as in secure).

      But unfortunately I doubt it, at least until they're just a bit better than Facebook and the alternatives, and the first major Facebook leak happens.
      Natanael_L
  • Bought into FaceBook did you?

    nt
    Sceptical Observer
  • Aptly titled ........

    ........as this article was, indeed, a waste of time!
    sjasja
  • no it isn't

    That's why 60-70% of folks have admitted to lying on their demographics when they sign up in surveys over the last couple of years. Yup, me too.
    rjm56
  • Now that's interesting...

    Re: "Its a business model that works for me, and if you're reading this it works for you too."

    So you're saying ZDNet is as rabid about collecting user data - to include our posts - as Facebook is?
    ibsteve2u
  • yes, stop wasting time on privacy issues...

    Yes, be reasonable. Stop wasting time on privacy issues. Stop coddling the privacy violators. And start throwing guys like Ellison & McNealy, the C*Os at Google, ZD/CBS, Grouply, FB, Yahoo!, GE, Siemens, MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn... in prison for hard time for felony theft of intellectual property, for abusing information loaned for one purpose (e.g. entering into a political and professional discussion) for different purposes (cross-connecting it with other data and abusing it for advertising), for keeping that information beyond the specified time (in the case of this post 24 hours).

    Don't pass go, don't collect a dime, chop chop, straight into the orange suits (sorry, no Saville Row, no Brooks Brothers, no Armani, no Gucci...; no professional shaves and $300 hair-cuts while in custody; this is your "new look" so you'd better start getting used to it immediately), all in one court-room, and thence to a federal max pen in Alaska or some place with equally non-balmy breezes -- or a prison with swarms of malaria and yellow fever carrying mosquitoes, open windows (except for the bars), no screens, and no A/C, totally up to you -- within 2 weeks and for at least the next 20 years with good behavior, no network connections, no computers, no tablets, no "smart-phones", one telephone call per month (recorded just so you get the point about privacy and its value and why the privacy of non-criminals should be respected), one doctor's visit per month.

    IOW, we need to get SERIOUS!
    Professor8
  • yes, stop wasting time on privacy issues...

    Yes, be reasonable. Stop wasting time on privacy issues. Stop coddling the privacy violators. And start throwing guys like Ellison & McNealy, the C*Os at Google, ZD/CBS, Grouply, FB, Yahoo!, GE, Siemens, MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn... in prison for hard time for felony theft of intellectual property, for abusing information loaned for one purpose (e.g. entering into a political and professional discussion) for different purposes (cross-connecting it with other data and abusing it for advertising), for keeping that information beyond the specified time (in the case of this post 24 hours).

    Don't pass go, don't collect a dime, chop chop, straight into the orange suits (sorry, no Saville Row, no Brooks Brothers, no Armani, no Italian leather (I can't believe ZD would censor that brand-name!)...; no professional shaves and $300 hair-cuts while in custody; this is your "new look" so you'd better start getting used to it immediately), all in one court-room, and thence to a federal max pen in Alaska or some place with equally non-balmy breezes -- or a prison with swarms of malaria and yellow fever carrying mosquitoes, open windows (except for the bars), no screens, and no A/C, totally up to you -- within 2 weeks and for at least the next 20 years with good behavior, no network connections, no computers, no tablets, no "smart-phones", one telephone call per month (recorded just so you get the point about privacy and its value and why the privacy of non-criminals should be respected), one doctor's visit per month.

    IOW, we need to get SERIOUS!
    Professor8
  • Well Aren't You?

    Aren't you the nice little serf? Google also collects personal information about your surfing habits, tracks your cellphone and reports your movement locations, and sells that information to God who knows. Its about time the FTC chairman goes after Google, Microsoft, Facebook and any other company who tracks us and sells that information. ENOUGH IS EFFING ENOUGH! If you want to bend over and take it then go ahead, but we will spin around and kick them in the crotch. Get it?
    Hannibal.TX