There are some things that are better left private. My karaoke performance last night comes to mind. My sympathies go out to everyone at the bar who endured my version of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You.
There’s a delicate balance to find among emerging attitudes on privacy, regulation and rights ─ who controls the data on the web and the access to it. Facebook, the FCC and WikiLeaks brought the issues of privacy, security, and information access into sharp relief for the mainstream this year, but as you know, they’ve been bubbling up in consumer protection, advertiser and political circles regularly. These issues will color everything the industry does and will be a major consideration of every online move going forward.
First there’s the issue of tracking individual user data. In May, criticism of Facebook’s continually relaxing privacy standards roiled to a boil, and up to 60 percent of the service’s users reported seriously considering deleting their Facebook accounts. Facebook simplified privacy options in response to public outcry, while social network Diaspora developed as an alternative that leaves user data fully in the user’s control.
The advertising industry, in an effort to avoid government regulation on the matter of data mining, proposed a way to police itself through an opt-out mechanism for behavioral ad targeting. However, just this week, the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force recommended the creation of an online privacy office and “Privacy Bill of Rights” for online consumers.
Additionally, users may be able to protect themselves through the adoption of browser extensions that block tracking, such as Disconnect. Tellingly, a former Google employee left the company to develop Disconnect, explaining: “I’ve been referring to this effort as Web 2.1, a privacy patch for the web.”
Also at issue is what may happen to data once its in a third-party’s hands. The trend is toward cloud computing ─ using shared servers to access resources, software and data on demand. Trusting a cloud storage system with confidential information was called into question earlier this year when a government agency rejected Google’s bid to provide a communications system featuring Google Apps, citing concerns about whether a cloud-based system could comply with security requirements.
More recently, reliance on cloud computing gave trend-watchers pause when, after WikiLeaks published confidential government cables, the site was dropped from Amazon’s cloud computing platform. Amazon said the removal was due to a breach in terms of service. Yet, the company’s possible selective censorship is coming under suspicion now as alliances are created in this central battle that will shape definitions and expectations of Internet freedoms.
And then there’s the vital debate around net neutrality. An FCC proposal for open access guidelines is scheduled for vote next week. It’s the latest in the commission’s efforts this year to extend its regulatory power to the Internet’s wild west. In April, a panel of federal judges ruled the FCC was acting beyond its authority when it issued a cease and desist against broadband provider Comcast’s practice of slowing bit torrent transfers. Despite this, the FCC has continued its mission of establishing regulatory guidelines around Internet access.
In August, Google and Verizon flexed their political muscle by submitting a proposed legislative framework for net neutrality. However, the proposal was panned by the agency as well as tech analysts for self-serving exclusions of wireless Internet and “new services” from regulation.
Unfortunately, the FCC’s latest proposed rules are widely criticized as a watered down version of net neutrality with flaws that could open the doors to the very issues net neutrality seeks to protect. More than 80 civil rights, public interest and business leadership groups have expressed concerns with the initiative through a joint letter delivered last week. The areas addressed in the letter include:
- Exclusion of the wireless Internet from the proposed regulations
- Failure to prohibit paid prioritization scenarios by ISPs
- Failure to include specialized services of a private Internet under authority of regulation
The next move will be the FCC’s open meeting vote on the proposed rules next week. Some activists are calling on interested individuals to express their concerns to FCC commissioners before then.
I’m thinking I just have to send over a recording of my karaoke performance and the commission will be sufficiently scared enough to reconsider.