Thursday, August 9, 2007

What's driving search engine privacy changes?

via Wired:

The top five U.S. search engines have all recently modified their data retention policies to be more user friendly, due to lawsuits over disclosures, pressure from government regulators and a desire to be perceived by net searchers as less evil than the others, the Center for Democracy and Technology's Deputy Director Ari Schwartz told THREAT LEVEL today regarding the group's release of a report on the changes.

According to the report:

No amount of self-regulation in the search privacy space can replace the need for a comprehensive federal privacy law to protect consumers from bad actors. With consumers sharing more data than ever before online, the time has come to harmonize our nation's privacy laws into a simple, flexible framework.

Wired notes that "CDT distinguishes itself from most privacy groups by working closely with tech companies and with legislators," drawing criticism from fellow advocates at the Center for Digital Democracy. Executive Director Jeffrey Chester called for full disclosure on corporate ties and said the report gave competition undue credit for privacy improvements, failing to sufficiently emphasize the impact of advocates' policy-related pressure. This critique aside, CDD and CDT essentially agree that consumer privacy is not an issue to be determined by market forces alone:

...It is necessary to recognize just how much slack the online advertising and marketing industry has been given with our personal information. The main point is that consumers are at risk; updated federal consumer protection policies are essential to an environment that increasingly uses personal data as its commodity.

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