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Every day citizens willingly share their personal information with internet companies such as Google and Facebook.
But what happens if those companies turn around and use the information against them?
It’s a question that’s being asked by thousands of concerned Google users, not to mention privacy lawyers, as the internet giant gears up for unified privacy settings.
On Thursday Google will begin creating “more comprehensive profiles” of its users by tracking their activities across the company’s websites, the Washington Post reported.
“From videos watched on YouTube to the terms typed in a Google search, tracking such behaviors will enable the firm to sell ads better suited to its customers’ tastes,” the Post said.
There’s no opt out. Users can switch do another service but Google is so deeply embedded in our internet existence, changing accounts and users presents a major challenge to many users. And there are a lot of them; about 350 million users worldwide with a Gmail account.
A lawsuit has been launched by the Electronic Privacy Information Center against the federal regulators over the issue.
In February, 2010, when Google tried to launch Buzz, a social networking service linked to Gmail, the, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, highlighting “several aspects of the Google Buzz service that threatened Gmail users’ privacy,” it said on its website.
The complaint claimed Google “engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices by transforming its email service into a social networking service without offering users meaningful control over their information or opt-in consent.”
The complaint was upheld. On October 13, 2011, the FTC issued a consent order setting out new privacy safeguards for users of Google products and services and making the internet giant subject to regular privacy audits.
In its lawsuit against the FTC the EPIC is arguing the unified privacy settings as a “clear violation of the consent order that Google entered into on October 13, 2011.”
The Google issue is only the latest privacy wrangle associated with the Internet. In September, 2011, a court in San Jose, California, heard claims that Apple’s iPhone as well as other mobile devices leaked users’ personal information to ad networks and to applications.
District Court Judge Lucy Koh dismissed multiple class actions against Apple and other mobile ad networks, saying the plaintiffs did not show that any one of them suffered identifiable harm.
And another privacy concern linked to the fast moving pace of technology, was highlighted in April 2011, when two researchers discovered that the Apple iPhone saves the user’s latitude and longitude, along with a time and date stamp, the Daily Mail reported.
“It then copies the data to the owner’s computer whenever the two are synchronized,” the Daily Mail reported. This data store was soon dubbed the “infidelity app by the researchers because it could allow a spouse to track their partner’s movement.
A right of publicity is protected by state common or statutory law, while a broader right of privacy has been inferred in the Constitution.
In 1890 then to be Justice Louis Brandeis articulated a “right to be left alone.” This developed into a liberty of personal autonomy protected by the 14th amendment.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces this statutory right of privacy. Google’s new profiles promise to test this issue in a new and very complex field.