Your Internet privacy is in Congress's hands now

The White House plan for a consumer privacy bill of rights sounds good on paper, but real action is still pending

I had a long talk with the president last week (yes, that president) about how my readers were clamoring for something like an Internet privacy bill of rights so that they could tell those nosy online advertising companies to piss off. What do you know? Thursday morning, the White House called on Congress and the high-tech industry to enact a consumer privacy bill of rights.

Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, readers, for suggesting it.

[ How is your personal data is being used on the Internet? Cringely offers a reminder in "Google doesn't need your stinking privacy rules." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

All we need now is for the industry to agree on what those rights really entail and for Congress to pass legislation empowering the FTC to enforce those rights. That shouldn't take more than, oh, 30 or 40 years -- maybe 25 with a strong tailwind.

Today's big privacy announcement came on the heels of controversies surrounding Google's bypassing the no-tracking settings in Safari, the callous disregard thousands of companies have for Internet Explorer's privacy preferences platform, and mobile apps that suck up all your personal contacts and store them on their servers without telling you. Also, in a few days Google will start converging all the data it has about you -- your Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Docs, Plus, what have you -- into one big happy pile of juicy ad-friendly data. It's no wonder people have their knickers in knots over privacy.

Cringester P. M., an intellectual property attorney who carries an Android phone, is worried what Google will do with all of the data it is syncing from his phone on March 1, the day of the Great Data Merge.

As a lawyer, I am required by my license to keep all my client stuff confidential, including their phone numbers and email addresses -- some private that they give me because they trust me. Google has said starting 3/1 they will be "Hoovering" everything and there is not s**t I can do about it. What they will not say -- and I cannot, despite many emails to all kinds of Google people, even get a BS answer -- is whether they will use my Android or synchronized on the Web data to open channels to my clients for targeted ads. (All they claim is they will not sell, but of course they will not sell if they can sell use of the targeting channel over and over!)

I don't speak for Google, but this sounds way beyond the pale even for the search behemoth. Will Google use your accumulated data to figure out who you are so it can send you annoying ads with greater precision? Absolutely. Will Google use your address book to send annoying ads to your friends with greater precision? That seems unlikely, especially given that Google is now in the crosshairs of the FTC. Still, it's a question worth asking.

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