Tag Archives: Europe

US Federal Trade Commission Chairman Gives Candid And Revealing Talk About Google

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

Ha!

  • 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

Um…okay….thanks?

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 

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Voluntary Internet Privacy Proposal Is A Day Late And A Dollar Short

 Yesterday, the Obama administration made a big announcement to help Internet users protect their data from third parties who collect it without your permission. The White House unveiled a consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that is said to be intended to give online users back control of their personal data. Now, this might sound like great news at first, but don’t get too excited just yet. Let’s take a closer:

The Privacy Bill of Rights does not impose any immediate new obligations on online companies. President Obama said it was part of a broader plan to give Americans more control over how their personal data is used on the Internet.  It consists of seven basic protections consumers should expect from companies:

Consumers would have control over the kind of data companies collect, companies must be transparent about data usage plans and respect the context in which it is provided and disclosed. Companies would have to ensure secure and responsible handling of the data and be accountable for strong privacy measures. It also calls for reasonable limits on the personal data that online companies can try to collect and retain and the ability of consumers to access and ensure the accuracy of their own data.

The Privacy Bill of Rights has received the backing of major Internet companies, including Google. It has also received the backing of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which represents over 400 media, marketing, and technology companies. The vast majority of advertisements you see on the Internet are from members of the DAA. Their involvement in this seems like a great thing, so far – but let’s keep digging…

The Obama administration wants the proposed Privacy Bill of Rights to function as a blueprint for future comprehensive legislation that can hopefully make it through Congress. Several online privacy bills have been introduced before and have failed to gain much traction over many years. Americans hardly have any protections online whatsoever – and don’t get me started with the lack of protections on mobile devices, which is even worse! By the way, in comparison, European data protection laws have been developed since the 1980s and are much more stringent.

In addition to the seven core principles of the Privacy Bill of Rights, the DAA has finally agreed to allow a ‘Do Not Track’ button to be added to browsers. The browser-based header will signal, to companies that gather your personal data, your preferences. If you indicate that you don’t want to be tracked, the DAA claims that they will respect your preference – to an extent.

But hang on a second!

This do-not-track button has been resisted for years by the DAA and Google – why the sudden change of heart? Excuse me for being suspicious about this, but why the heck would a known privacy violator like Google be all too eager to participate in this initiative to protect personal data? It doesn’t make sense, folks.

Remember, Google is the same company that is facing a 20 year consent order with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the privacy of users; it is the same company that had to pay $500 million to the US government after being found aiding and abetting a con artist; it is the same company that just recently deliberately bypassed privacy settings on Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers so that they can collect information of their users; it is the same damn company that refused to have this do-not-track button on their Chrome browser for years, while all the other major browsers adopted the do-not-track technology ages ago!

Now you expect me to suddenly buy into this believe that Google wants to do what is best for our privacy – a week before it is about to change its privacy policies so that it makes it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers? Please! I ain’t buying the garbage Google is selling – not a chance!

Julia Angwin, writer for The Wall Street Journal, brought up something important:

“The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as ‘market research’ and ‘product development’ and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.”

So basically, what she is saying is that this do-not-track button is BS. It won’t do anything worthwhile. First of all, it is completely voluntary for the companies to adopt the do-not-track button and if they end up letting users opt-out of tracking, it isn’t going to stop the tracking. It will only limit the amount of personalized advertisements you see. For many these companies, whose sole business purpose it is to harvest your personal data and sell it, they will still see everything you do.

It was recently reported that the American retailing company Target was targeting pregnant women with creepy advertisements of things a pregnant woman might need. The only problem was that these pregnant women never informed Target about their pregnancy and were creeped out that Target not only knew they were expecting a child, but could actually freakishly guess the due date. When Target noticed that people were starting to get creeped out they decided to still send targeted advertisements, but made sure to not make it so obvious. A Target executive revealed to the New York Times:

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly…then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance”

Target was able to do this because they matched customers with an ID number linked to their credit cards or other personal information. You can read more on this by clicking here.

Anyway, the point is that Google and those data analytics companies that say they will respect your information think you’re stupid. They think you won’t know better if they give you a useless button to pacify you, while they continue on doing what they have always been doing. And, unlike Target, the Internet is A LOT more invasive! The Internet is the Wild West, where there are basically no laws to protect you and it’s much easier to obtain personal information. At least Target only collects data on buying habits of customers from their own store – Google collects personal data of you everywhere on the Internet.

Mozilla Firefox, was the first browser to allow users to use a do-not-track button. Internet Explorer followed Firefox’s example soon after, and then Apple’s Safari joined. All major browsers had this functionality enabled, with the exception of Google’s Chrome browser. Mozilla executives released a statement yesterday saying that they were “encouraged” by the news of a Privacy Bill of Rights and felt proud to say that they were first to implement a do-not-track button. However, they made sure to say that while they feel optimistic about the move to increased privacy for users, they will avoid fully endorsing the proposed do-not-track button that the DAA says it will produce in about nine months:

“We want to continue to see Do Not Track evolve through the Internet’s rich tradition of open development and collaborative innovation. Do Not Track is too important to become a product of closed-door meetings rather than through open, multi-stakeholder efforts…If Do Not Track fails to materialize as a productive tool, we’ll look to develop other technical measures to ensure that users’ privacy preferences are respected”

This button will not result in anything good for users and Mozilla already pretty much knows it. This proposed do-not-track button might actually create more harm than good. If people assume that they are protected from tracking, when in actuality they are not, they will let their guard down. People will stop asking for more protections for their privacy online and on mobile devices – while, Google and the DAA will give each other a high-fives for pacifying the public. Phew! No more annoying privacy advocates giving them a hard time!

But not so fast, Google! We’re on to you!

We don’t need a watered-down, meet me halfway, a day too late and a dollar too short privacy bill of rights! We need real change! We need comprehensive and solid protections! We need to completely stop tracking, period; full-stop!

Here is something to think about: even though Mozilla Firefox was the first to implement a Do Not Track button for their users, only 18% of mobile users and only 7% of desktop users activated the functionality on Firefox. It was available for Firefox users for awhile now, and only a small percentage took advantage of it. And guess what – Google and the DAA are well aware of this fact. An opt-in button will not reach the masses, and a useless button will not go far enough to protect users.

When the White House made its announcement yesterday, the true winners were not vulnerable Internet users – the winners are Google and the DAA who were so giddy and self-congratulatory.

For more information, I highly recommend these articles:

  • The Wall Street Journal, “Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button” – click here
  • The Washington Post, “Voluntary guidelines for Web privacy backed by Obama administration” – click here
  • Techcrunch, “Mozilla: Welcome Google and Obama, We Invented ‘Do Not Track’ A Year Ago” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Obama’s Internet Bill Of Rights Will Be Hard to Enforce: Here’s Why” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Universal ‘Do Not Track’ Button: A Recipe for Disappointment” – click here
  • Wired, “White House Privacy Bill of Rights Brought to You by Years of Online Debacles  – click here

 

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Are You Sure You’re Fully Protected Against Google’s Tracking?

 Are you protected on the Internet? What can you do to better protect yourself? What browsers do the best job in protecting your personal data? What is the government doing to proactively introduce laws to protect you?

With so many social networking websites out there and since more of us are spending more of our time on mobile devices than ever before, we need to make sure that we are fully protected from people who want to harvest our personal data.

Google’s social networking site, Google Plus, and its mobile device software, Android, use applications developed by outside companies. When you choose to load these applications (apps) to your profile on Google Plus or to your Smartphone it will allow these apps to gain access to your personal information. These apps can gain access to your phone address book, to your photos, pinpoint your location, retrieve your friends’ contact information, etc. There is a treasure trove of personal data that these apps companies get a hold of – and goodness knows what the heck they do with it all. It’s bad enough that Google is monetizing our personal data without our explicit consent – but it can go further than that.

“Last year, a study by Stanford University graduate student found that profile information on an online dating site, including ethnicity, income and drug use frequency, was somehow being transmitted to a third-party data firm. The data that third-parties collect is used mainly by advertisers, but there are concerns that these profiles could be used by insurance companies or banks to help them make decisions about who to do business with.”

Many people don’t realize what they can get themselves into when they agree to let these companies access their personal data – and Google couldn’t care less about making sure to protect you. Google leaves advertisers to self-regulate themselves and it is often the case that these apps do not even need to ask for permission to access your information. As long as Google can cash its check, it’s happy. You, on the other hand, are left to fend for yourself.

This is why it is critical you arm yourself with knowledge and then take the necessary steps to protect yourself – do not depend on Google to do it for you. Google does not see you as its customer, you are Google’s product! Yes, YOU are Google’s product. Your personal information is gold to Google.

“Personal information is the basic currency of an Internet economy built around marketing and advertising. Hundreds of companies collect personal information about Web users, slice it up, combine it with other information, and then resell it.”

Google’s browser, Chrome, is the only browser that does not block tracking. Google wants your personal data exposed to spying eyes because Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising!

If you use Google’s browser, you are the most vulnerable of all. However, we have already seen this past weekend how Google deliberately exposed Apple’s and Microsoft’s users to tracking too by circumventing the browser security of Safari and Internet Explorer. Both Apple and Microsoft have now taken further steps to protect its users from Google.

If you want some information on tracking cookies and how to protect yourself, CNET has an article on this: click here

So, what is the government doing to protect people from these companies?

“United States has no overarching restrictions. Websites are free to collect personal information including real names and addresses, credit card numbers, Internet addresses, the type of software installed, and even what other websites people have visited. Sites can keep the information indefinitely and share most of what they get with just about anyone. Websites are not required to have privacy policies.”

Americans are the most vulnerable, which is why Americans need to take online privacy more seriously. Contact your representative in Congress and ask them to introduce comprehensive laws to protect your personal data. I have discussed on this site before about several bipartisan members of Congress and the Senate who are especially concerned about Google and want to introduce tougher legislation to protect your privacy.

The Europeans have it much better, though. European regulators have stringent laws to protect its people and they are in the process of establishing a “right to be forgotten“. This right will give users the power to demand companies like Google to delete all their personal information when requested. This is so important.

Of course, Google has been devoting a lot of time and resources in lobbying against this “right to be forgotten”. Google spends millions on lobbying now than it ever did before. In 2011, Google spent $9.7 million on lobbying – nearly double the amount it spent the previous year.

For more information on all this, Reuters published an article yesterday: click here

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Today Is Safer Internet Day And Google Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Since 2004, Safer Internet Day has been celebrated annually on the second day of the second week of the second month of the year – and that would be today – February, 7th, 2012.

Predictably, and quite ironically, Google has decided that it wants to join in on the global Internet safety awareness effort. On their homepage there is a link directing people to a “family safety” page they put together. I would never attack Google on wanting to help users, in creating a safer Internet, and in providing greater protection of private user information. I would absolutely encourage it and I would even assist Google by spreading the word out to everybody. However, I must call out Google’s hypocrisy and the irony of them celebrating an event funded by a group Google basically recently just snubbed.

I’m sure Google is desperate to try to give off the appearance that it really cares about its users and how much it values your personal information, but its actions contradict that. People need to tell Google that we had enough with the PR stunts and we want real changes.

In my article I posted here last week entitled “Europeans Increasingly Rejecting Google Due To Lack Of Privacy”, I explained how the European Union and the European Commission have been extremely critical and concerned about Google’s lack of privacy and lack of protection for its users of its services. The European Commission has even taken the step to ask Google to do the right thing and “pause” its implementation of changes to its privacy policies, which Google says will happen next month. The new changes to the privacy policy will allow Google to consolidate information about users across its many services. If you do a search on Google’s video sharing website, Youtube, and you then write an email to a friend using their Gmail – Google will know it was you on all their websites. Your anonymity is gone and many people are creeped out by Google tracking users all over the Internet.

Google claims it wants to track you all over the Internet to better serve you better and give you a better experience online – but who are they trying to fool? The more Google tracks your every move, the more Google knows about everything you do. It also means more advertising money for Google. Google is desperate to hang onto advertisers. One way to do so is to harvest your personal information so that they can give advertisers a more complete picture of exactly who you are, which they believe will help target specific advertisements to you.

The European Commission takes privacy very seriously. In fact, they recently laid out plans to adopt more effective, comprehensive, and stringent polices to protect the data of individuals. Some steps they want to implement are to give users the ability to demand Internet companies, such as Google, to not sell their personal information to advertisers. They also want companies to delete all data they have of people completely if asked to do so because people should have the “right to be forgotten”.

After the European regulators told Google to stop right there and hang on a minute, Google fired back at the groups and basically said tough luck but we’re doing what we want whether you give us your stamp of approval or not.

So, isn’t it ironic that now Google is promoting an event on Internet safety which is an initiative of and funded by the same European regulators Google told to get lost? Google thinks the European regulators are too demanding and a nuisance to them when it involves an investigation into Google’s own practices, but Google has no problem using the same European regulators’ initiative to make them look good to people. Shame on Google! The company is all talk and nothing else. Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

To read the article I wrote and posted here on Europeans rejecting Google, click here

To read the article I wrote and posted here on American congress grilling Google over privacy, click here

I highly recommend this article explaining in detail the fight between Google and the European regulators, click here

To visit the Safer Internet Organization’s website, please do click here

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