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Feds Investigate a Google Privacy Matter (Again)

Like Robert Blake, Google, it seems, can get away with just about anything. It takes photos of our homes, sniffs passwords and Wi-Fi MAC addresses, parses our e-mail, sells our data, co-opts the media and sells ads around content that isn't Google's. No big.

But apparently when you bypass a setting in Apple's browser, you are in for it! Well, in for it at least a little.

You see, Google just happened to sidestep a security setting in Safari that stopped Google cookies.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which dropped the ball on the Microsoft antitrust case a couple decades ago only to have the DOJ pick it up, is now looking at whether it should wag its finger at Google. Perhaps even levy a fine. Isn't this like penalizing Rex Ryan for swearing? Is he really going to develop a new vocabulary?  Not even Tebow can make that happen.

The fine is inconsequential. What is more important is the precedent the ruling could set -- that one cannot just bypass protections aimed at consumers even if everyone loves your free search engine.

Google has been hit hard by the feds before. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) whacked Google with a $25,000 penalty for Google Street View's invasions of privacy. This hurt. One of the company's private jets had to skip a detailing. And that money has already been spent for shrimp cocktail at a GSA party in Vegas. You see, it all works out in the end.

Can anything, anything at all, be done to restore the privacy so many Web and mobile vendors have taken away? Your best Newt-style "big ideas" welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 04/18/2012 at 1:19 PM


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Reader Comments:

Fri, Apr 20, 2012 Den Kansas City

John of Canberra -- you're quite right in saying that privacy should be important, and there should be severe penalties for abuses of personal information. I agree with everything you're saying, except for the fact that the horse has already left the barn. Most of what you and I think _should_ be the case is prescriptive, not descriptive. The abuses we're both against have already occurred, and continue to occur. The mere fact that CISPA is being considered in Congress here in the States right now indicates that personal privacy is once again under attack by the very people we voted into office. The very fact that there are mandates from bodies in the EU to require storage of internet usage information for some period by ISPs, while at the same time the EU has a more stringent privacy policy, points out just how schizophrenic our privacy regulations are. Basically, I'm saying that the deal is already done, and what we as citizens and individuals have to do is to determine just how we're going to balance the seesaw of private and public information about ourselves, within the limits of control we have. We don't really have that much control, in fact; a lot of that control has been ceded away by us in the past, because we didn't seriously consider all the ramifications of what we were doing at the time. I'd like to see things change, but I have a feeling that they'll not change into something we'd recognize. Change will happen, but much of it will have to be in our expectations of privacy and what can realistically be done in an interconnected world. During the Clinton years, the slogan was, "It takes a village." Well, as one who's lived in small towns most of my life, your neighbors know a _lot_ about you in that environment. I think we're going to find that, for good and ill, we're back in a small town again, at least in some respects.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012 John Canberra Australia

Den. #### I agree privacy has been compromised, and regardless of what laws are enacted the unscrupulous and the authorities can always find the information, however by allowing anyone with the resources (and big business has far more resources than governments) to legally trawl and collate information (including downloading personal stuff from your IT without permission) we are allowing the situation to be far worse than necessary. #### Breach of privacy is no different to unlawful entry. It doesn’t matter that the victim was not denied access to their property – privacy is of value to the individual and it is being breached. Your home should not be accessible to all-and-sundry without due process – your personal information is no different. #### Even if you can’t totally prevent access to the information, you can at least make it illegal and therefore penalise (hopefully severely) anyone who does so (including the users of that information). This would make big-business think twice about it and so reduce the current severe imbalance in power.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012 Den Kansas City

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that there is no way short of leaving the internet in its entirety that anyone can hope to reclaim some semblance of privacy as we once knew it. And even then, the person leaving the internet has left footprints all over the virtual veldt.

The internet is a network of networks. People who are interested in gathering intelligence on their fellow human beings have all the interconnectedness they need to hunt down that sort of information. And we the internet users are all too willing to share it, in order to have access to the services that the first group provide as an incentive to get that information they crave. Add to that automated daemons that scour the net for information of interest, and massive database engines that collect, collate, and corroborate all the myriad bits and bytes, and you have the greatest privacy destruction engine the world has ever seen. And if you're interested in your privacy, don't expect the governments of our nation states to come to your rescue - it's in their interest to be able to accumulate as much information on their citizens - that's us - as they can, in order to facilitate social cohesion and stability.

Does this sound too cynical? Too cut and dried? Really? When the UK is becoming a surveillance society, when we have Congress considering CISPA, when we have Facebook hoovering up information daily by the terabyte, is this really anything more than a precis of the true situation? Privacy as we knew it died a long time ago; we're now arguing about its dried out corpse. Pandora's box was opened; the demons have multiplied, and even a bigger box is not going to retrieve them.

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