Barney's Rubble

Privacy Is Dead

I don't look in my kids' dressers, go on their Facebook accounts, and I have to be forced to look in my gal's pocketbook to get the car keys. Technology companies are less reticent. Here's a list of the egregious invasion examples.

Vexing Verizon: I'm a Verizon wireless customer -- but shouldn't be. That's because Verizon recently told customers it's tracking what Web sites we visit, apps we use and so on. The carrier then sells this data to third parties so they can send ads only to those who might respond. The real concern is that this is opt-out, not opt-in.

Facebook Flub: Facebook has never been a poster child for respecting privacy. After getting clobbered for letting third parties access user data such as phone numbers, Facebook in 2010 changed course, blocking the practice.that which lets your Facebook friends see your every Facebook move in the form of a ticker. This is an opt-in deal, but one dumb move and you'll regret forever allowing this service.

Google Gotchas: Google has spent countless hours publicly defending itself against charges of privacy invasion. The company alternately claims it doesn't snoop, but in the next breath argues there's no expectation of privacy on the Internet.

Its search engine is so good, there's very little that can't be found by human resources, an ex-girlfriend or a stalker. This ain't good, but other engines such as Bing pretty much do the same thing.

Gmail users have long noticed that ads mimic the content of e-mail. That's because Google computers parse the mail and based on keywords, choose the most relevant ads. I don't know about you, but I don't want anyone or anything reading my mail except the chosen recipient. And no, Google is not the only Web e-mail culprit.

In 2010 Google tried to take on Facebook with Buzz, a social networking technology based on Gmail that let you share pictures, videos and posts with other Gmail, er, Buzz users. The service ran into a buzz saw of privacy allegations and intense government scrutiny led Google to shut the service down. The whole problem was that Gmail users didn't opt in -- they were opted in by Google.

And don't forget Google Earth, where anyone can see what's in my backyard; or StreetView, where anyone can see what's in the front.

It gets worse. We have hackers reading our files, monitoring software following our every step, CCTV, and the government accessing whatever it wants. If you fight the feds too hard, I guarantee you have a big dossier in no time.

Am I just being paranoid? What do you do to protect your privacy? Tell me what you think at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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