As concern mounts as to why Facebook spent $130,000 on lobbyists in the 4th quarter, and why Google dropped $5.16 million for the same purpose in 2010, many of us feel that these efforts were purely for monetary gain. With behaviorally-targeted marketing a result of Web searches, LIKE buttons and GPS functionality, not only do Internet companies and social networks want your private data, so does the government.
Recently Facebook lobbied House representatives and U.S. senators on how foreign governments restrict Internet access - a crucially sensitive issue in the aftermath of the Egyptian government censoring mobile phone and Internet communications during the nation's recent protests.
At the heart of this issue is the Electronics Communications Privacy Act which has not been revised in the last 25 years. In its original form, it extended government restrictions on wire taps from telephone to include transmission of electronic data from computers. The problem is the ECPA pre-dates Google, Facebook and location-based social networks, and many feel the law needs to be revised.
As these newer electronic transmissions evolved, lawmakers have been divided as to how to address what Sen. Ron Wydenrights regulatory agencies have in obtaining personal data. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat is about to introduce a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to get court-ordered warrants versus simple subpoenas when seeking location-based data from mobile devices.
Like wire taps, turning somebody's cell phone into a modern-day tracking device 24/7 according to Wyden is "a pretty serious intrusion into (people's) privacy."
On the flipside, those in favor of more stringent governmental control believe the ECPA helps law enforcement agents track terrorists, computer hackers, drug traffickers and other types of criminals. James Baker, the DOJ's associate deputy attorney general believes mobile tracking information can save lives and believes that Congress should refrain from making any changes that impair the government's ability to obtain critical information that protects national security.
Google was sued last year for scooping up bits of private wireless data with its Street View vehicles. Google officials admitted that the Street View cars "mistakenly" picked up bits of private data from WiFi networks in transit. However in this case, the ECPA actually offers a safe harbor for this type of breach if the collected information was obtained unintentionally.
Social media, hand-held devices and Internet search companies have propelled privacy issues in such a way that governments are in need of review and revision as it applies in today's world. According to FrontPage Mag report, "Facebook and Twitter have been integral components in not only organizing and coordinating large-scale demonstrations, but also in providing real-time updates to anti-government forces."
Sen. Joe LiebermanWhile I don't totally favor how Facebook and Google handle privacy issues when it comes to lining their coffers, Net Neutrality should be considered a right that is protected. Laws like what Joseph Lieberman, Independent senator from Connecticut is proposing could restrict broadband providers, search engines and software firms from certain activities if and when the government declares it a threat to national security.
Lieberman's bill, "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act" (PCNAA) if passed would provide the Presidential Kill Switchfederal government with "absolute power" to shut down the Internet under the terms outlined in this legislature. In essence, it would literally provide President Obama with a "kill switch" to seize control and shut down the Web.
So, as we continue to redefine what privacy means to us in the Internet Age, we need to take all of these factors into consideration. If we are concerned as to how privacy will affect how brands market and sell products online and interact with Facebook, Google and other social networks to do so, we should be equally concerned that our governments are not seizing too much control in curtailing how our privacy can and cannot be used, without our permission.
Read more about Privacy and Web Analytics here