Yesterday, the chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Jon Leibowitz, was a guest on the C-SPAN show “Newsmakers”. He was interviewed by Brendan Greeley, writer for Bloomberg, and Juliana Grunwald, a writer for National Journal.
It was a very interesting interview and Mr. Leibowitz revealed many things that I will share with you in a moment. First of all, I have to acknowledge how wonderfully Brendan Greeley performed. He was prepared with tough questions to ask the chairman. I thought he did a great job making sure he could get the most out of the chairman.
The interview was about 30 minutes long and here are the highlights (a link to view the interview video is located at the bottom of this post):
- 04:00 – “We called for more transparency because nobody reads online privacy notices…” - Jon
This is so true. Nobody reads them.
- 04:20 – “…choice because consumers should have the right not to have their information collected…your computer is your property…people should have the right not to have their information collected particularly about sensitive issues.” - Jon
Again, very true! It’s our personal data and our property. Google should have no right to profit off and sell our personal data to advertisers without our explicit consent
- 04:53 – “There seems like there’s two buzz words here and I’m gonna try to see if we can explain both of them. There’s self-regulatory, which is what the industry is pushing…and then there’s a word that kept on showing up in the White House report which was stakeholder approach…it doesn’t seem like the two of those are gonna work very well together. You have the industry taking care of itself and you have the White House suggesting that you get industry plus private watchdog groups plus Congress getting together to figure out the best approach…it seems like Washington is where the stakeholder goes to die.” - Brendan
Right on, Brendan! Self-regulation is absolutely nonsense and ineffective. How can you let Google and the advertising companies police themselves? It doesn’t make sense. This whole Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that the White House eventually wants to make law will not amount to much if Google and its advertising minions are allowed to dominate the upcoming negotiations to fully develop this bill. An independent body needs to keep an eye on Google.
- 11:16 – “I’m not too sure many people will opt-out. I happen to like getting, you know, ads that relate to the things I’m interested in – so we sense is not too many people will opt-out” – Jon
Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you thinking?? You don’t mind getting creepy targeted ads? You don’t mind these tracking companies spying on everything you do on the web so that they can analyze the perfect ad for you? This is ridiculous.
I have written on here before about a store that sent baby ads to a pregnant teenage girl before her parents even knew she was pregnant – click here
There was also an article where a man said he rather have his daughters spied on by tracking companies so that they can target ads for them, rather then his daughters seeing random ads that could potentially include…heaven forbid…a Viagra commercial! Kids see random ads all the time on television, magazines, and on billboards – I don’t think it’s going to damage your children. Forfeiting your child’s privacy to prevent them from seeing irrelevant ads for their age group and gender is really pathetic – click here
But Jon is correct on one thing – people do not opt-out when the opt-out of tracking option is not the default setting. It’s not that people want to be tracked, it’s because people don’t know better. The fact is that many people don’t change the default settings of their web browser. They also don’t look around to make sure their privacy and security settings are set to its maximum level. Google and their advertising minions know this fact already.
- 12:14 – “Other than saying that [Google] have been clear and that it’s a very binary and somewhat brutal choice that they’re giving consumers…I can’t say much more and I’ll just leave it at that, but we’re aware.” – Jon
Exactly. Google is telling its users that they have to either take it all or leave it all. There is no middle option. First of all, they need to tell users the whole truth about why they’re changing their privacy policies - which is to make it easier to sell your information to advertisers. Then they need give users an option to opt-out of this data harvesting. Shame on Google!
- 12:20 – “‘Binary and brutal was plenty’” – Brendan
- 12:23 – “Perhaps too much” – Jon
Nope. You’re just being honest.
- 12:26 – “You’re suggesting that they be more explicit about what they do and I wonder if they were completely upfront…about what they are doing with your information whether there would be a market at all. I wonder if I would sign up for a service that said ‘in exchange for this free way to get in touch with your family and friends we’re going to sell information about you’. In a way, they are misrepresenting what their fundamental purpose is” – Brendan
Again, excellent job Brendan. Google is definitely lying to its users. Google is not changing its privacy policies to simply give you a better experience. It is changing it to make it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. You are not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product.
Now, Google says that they don’t “sell” your private information to advertisers, they simply “share” it. Google thinks we’re stupid, ha-ha. Selling….sharing…whatever…a distinction without a difference.
- 12:46 – “I’m not sure everybody is selling information about consumers” – Jon
Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you saying? Selling….sharing…a distinction without a difference!
I got the impression that Jon was hinting at something here, almost like he was trying to say that another company sells your information even more than Google – that other company being Facebook. That’s only because Facebook is a social networking site that requires you to share a lot more personal information about yourself. But Google launched Google Plus last summer and said that its own social networking site will now be an “extension” of Google itself. In addition, unlike Facebook, Google has multiple services all over the web and it has multiple tracking devices all over the web. Google’s tracking devices are on millions of websites. So enough of the “pick between the lesser of two evils” game – just protect our privacy!
Afterwards Brendan asked him if it would be possible to have a ratings system for privacy policies, something similar to the ratings system for movies and television shows. Jon replied back saying that the advertising industry can come up with that system themselves and that it might not be such a bad idea. But then, Brendan replied back pointing out it wouldn’t be taken seriously because, again, that would be self-regulation. You need an independent body to check these things.
- 14:28 – “It does seem like we’re still talking about a self-regulatory approach” – Brendan
I know! Enough with this self-regulation nonsense. It does not work!
- 15:19 -”I also think, speaking for myself not the commission…privacy legislation has a place and if we could come up with… a comprehensive balanced, Congress could, set of guidelines….that would be probably a good thing” – Jon
- 17:12 – “This is not a year Congress is going to pass a lot of legislation…but it is a year we should be working on privacy and so the best way to do it is….government using its bully pulpit and pushing very hard for the best self-regulatory standards” – Jon
Even though self-regulation won’t do anything to really protect Americans online, you just have to settle for less because Congress cannot pass a new law during an election year…well, doesn’t that suck? But we’re not going to settle for less. We don’t want to give Americans a false sense of security!
- 20:00 – “It feels like Do Not Track is an answer to a browsing habit that’s about 3 years old in the sense that more and more people get their information over the Internet through apps and through their mobile devices…how do you keep the FTC from always fighting abuses that are 3 years old.” - Brendan
Yet again, excellent job Brendan!
- 20:45 – “We’re not a regulatory agency. We’re an enforcement and policy agency, so it’s harder for us to set up rules in advance, so…you’re right…it’s a tricky question…responding to how do we make things better going forward as opposed to correcting mistakes a few years ago…we try our best using the tools that we have” – Jon
A few minutes later, between 22:50 -23:19, Brendan asks an important question about the differences between how the United States protects its citizen’s online privacy versus how the Europeans do it. Europe has very stringent laws in place to protect privacy.
Then, between 23:45 – 24:31, Jon admits that the European system emphasizes regulation and the American system emphasizes enforcement. He then claims that both systems essentially want to protect their people equally and that he doesn’t think the American system is that far behind Europe as some people like to believe.
It’s funny that Jon claims that the American and European systems are essentially equal, but then he admitted earlier that the American system falls short due to a lack of regulation!
Then, in around 24:40, Juliana brings up the “right to be forgotten” plan that the European regulators are now working on to implement that will give Internet users the right to demand Internet companies delete all personal data about them when asked to do so. She then asks if this should be an idea the United States should seriously consider as well.
In response to this question, in between 24:51 -25:55, Jon rambles on about how children need to be protected because they are the most vulnerable, but he fails to really answer the question. Keep in mind that – although it is absolutely important to protect children and it’s nice to bring that up and all – BUT there are already federal laws in place to protect children under 13. Older children and adults have absolutely no real protections online whatsoever! The European “right to be forgotten” will give everybody, young and old, their privacy back! All Americans are vulnerable.
Then, around 26:25 – 26:54, Brendan brings up another great point. He says that independent watchdog groups like The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) play a very valuable role. He says that EPIC almost functions as a regulator for the FTC because when they bring up complaints to the FTC that is when the FTC starts to finally take action (as they did with Google’s first attempt at social networking called Google Buzz, which launched in 2010).
- 26:55 – “I do think that they perform an enormously valuable role…we want the best information we can from the smartest people who think about these issues” – Jon
They do, indeed. Thank goodness for these groups!
For a video of the full interview, you can watch it on C-SPAN’s website – click here