Thursday, July 22, 2010

Intersection 06: Saving one’s privates

Just recently, Google has been put to task after it disclosed that it inadvertently gathered data from individual internet users in 2007 as it swept the planet for images for its map-related services. An article on CNN reported that 38 states in the US are now putting the pressure on Google to answer for the breach, particularly demanding that it names the engineers who included a code that allowed for the collection of data.

A couple of months back, Facebook had its own share of privacy issues, when it tweaked its privacy policy. After a public uproar, it again tweaked its privacy policy, and this, according to PCWorld, received “mixed reviews”. Incidentally, Facebook just reported that it now has 500 million friends.

The privacy problems of Google and Facebook got me thinking about the slew of information I have placed on the internet ever since I logged on. I have several online accounts, many of which I have not revisited in years. I don’t even remember many of their website addresses anymore. All I remember is I have an account on, among others, some pay-per-use law database here, some free online research/resource site there, some “first generation” email service somewhere (rocketmail?), and a newspaper in California.

While these sites do have terms of services, I never really read them fastidiously. Well, I did… or tried. Pre-law school, they all sounded Greek to me. Even after 2006, many of them (those I attempted to read anyway) still sound Greek to me.

More like gibberish and gobbledygook really.

After one sifts through the legalese, one realizes that all these terms of services really say the same thing: the user’s privacy will be protected and respected. Assurances aside, how do we really know that the information we put on the virtual world are used according to such terms of services? Google accidentally swept user information while its cars photographed streets all over the world. If a big corporation can do that, albeit unintentionally, then you can bet other entities, such as the government, can do the same.

Constitutions and statutes the world over are in place to protect our privacy rights, and the latter has been trying to catch up with technological developments to ensure the same. Nevertheless, the invasion of one’s privacy rights is usually never known to that person until the consequences are there at his/her doorstep. That’s when the person reacts, and that’s when the absence or inadequate remedy in law may rear its ugly head as well.

How much control does one really have over his/her personal data? In an amorphous environment such as the internet, this control seems much more difficult to wield, assurances from service providers and the law notwithstanding.

Whenever one of those applications on Facebook entices me, I often end up not using them. They always say that your personal information will be shared with the makers of those applications. That doesn’t sit well with me somehow. So I take comfort in the idea that I limited my personal data exposure to Facebook alone. At least there’s some sort of control there.

Then I learned about Diaspora. And its promise of “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network.”

-- William G. Ragamat

1 comment:

Anonymous said...