Q&A: New technologies pose online privacy uncertainties, Rotenberg claims
Privacy advocate says that much remains unknown about how collected data will be used
Computerworld - Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), spoke recently with Computerworld about online privacy issues. In an initial installment of the interview, Rotenberg said he fears that a "privacy meltdown" will result from Google Inc.'s planned acquisition of online ad-serving vendor DoubleClick Inc., a deal that was given the green light last month by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. In this second installment, he gives his take on how young people view privacy and discusses the privacy ramifications of shopping courtesy cards, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and bar-coded driver's licenses.
Some privacy advocates argue that the younger generation of Internet users – the Facebook and MySpace users – are less guarded about data privacy. Is this younger generation in the vanguard of a new way of thinking about privacy, or are they just naïve? Younger people today have a different way of thinking about privacy. I think it's a mistake to believe that they value privacy less [than other users do]. And in many respects, that's actually the experience we've often had in this country: notions of privacy evolve based on what technology makes possible. But I think the mistake that people sometimes make is to believe that because kids have a different expectation of privacy, somehow it's a diminished expectation.
Do you think, though, that young users are sharing more information about themselves in public environments than they should be? I think the interesting issue, and where the privacy debate begins, is when the information that they make available to their friends – for example, on a social network site – is gathered surreptitiously and used for marketing purposes. And there, I think there really is a [valid] debate about whether people, and kids in particular, understand what's going on and if it's really fair.
The courtesy cards that retailers issue to customers to qualify for discounts can be used to record everything that someone like me buys. How can that information be used? And as a consumer, should I worry about it? I generally think that being worried is not a helpful way to talk about privacy. In terms of how businesses collect and use personal information, the right approach is really to ask the question, "Are companies being fair with what they do with the data they collect?" If they aren't, then we need some rules in place.
Do you think that retailers are being fair about how they use the purchasing information they collect? I think it's a very serious issue. One of the big paradoxes about privacy is that the companies that collect and use so much information about consumers tend to be very secretive about their own practices, and as a result, it's just very difficult for people to really know what's happening to the data that is provided to [the companies]. So typically, when we talk about privacy laws, one of the main things we're arguing for is simply making companies more accountable in the collection and use of data that they collect.
At an IBM conference that I was at recently, the ID badges for attendees included RFID tags that automatically tracked what sessions people attended. IBM's conference organizers had a reasonable explanation: instead of scanning people's badges as they went into sessions, they just RFID'ed them. But where can this all go if things like driver's licenses or library cards get RFID tags? Your story is very interesting, and in fact, [IBM's] analogy is imperfect. When you scan a card, there's a moment when the card is removed, it's turned over to a reader and the person is aware of the fact that the card is being read. The problem, of course, with an RFID tag is that it can be read at any time by anyone who is in possession of a reader – whether or not the person knows that their card is being scanned. And this is precisely the debate we are having right now with the Department of Homeland Security over many of the identity schemes.
This pilot fish is a contractor at a military base, working on some very cool fire-control systems for tanks. But when he spots something obviously wrong during a live-fire test, he can't get the firing-range commander's attention.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Reduce federal infrastructure risk with compliance management and situational awareness
- IBM continuous monitoring and management solutions deliver real-time situational awareness to help federal agencies understand vulnerabilities, and protect the infrastructure.
- SANS: Next-Generation Datacenters = Next-Generation Security
- This whitepaper takes a look at some new technology that may allow security teams to implement more flexible and capable protection models in...
- SANS: Protecting Virtual Endpoints with McAfee Server Security Suite Essentials
- SANS review of McAfees Server Security Suite Essentials that address some of the emerging challenges of securing virtual platforms and cloud environments.
- Safeguarding the Next-Generation Data Center
- Use of virtual and cloud servers has exploded. Unfortunately, security often lags behind. McAfee recommends looking at innovative solutions in order to erect...
- Aberdeen: Securing the Evolving Datacenter
- This report highlights ways security technologies and services are evolving to provide the visibility and control needed to deploy workloads flexibly in the... All Government IT White Papers
- Is SQL Server AlwaysOn really as powerful? Tips and Tricks from the field With the introduction of AlwaysOn, Windows Clustering Services is now more critical than ever.
- What Does it Take to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience? The Two Top-Rated Online Retailers, B&H Photo and Crutchfield Electronics, Share Their Secrets Discuss practical CX tools and service methods such as contact center agents and the use of realtime speech analytics to help contact center...
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their...
- DevOps with PureApplication System: Reduce cost and speed delivery with an integrated IBM Cloud solution Join this webcast to hear what ING Netherlands has been able to achieve while deploying DevOps tools from IBM Rational. An ING executive...
- All Government IT Webcasts