Of course, there's also action under way that would keep users on the losing side. Beyond the individual privacy-invasion shenanigans at many Web companies, Congress is again considering the fatally flawed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) bill that would allow rampant sharing of personal data across companies in the name of security. Security fears are often used to scare people into giving up rights they shouldn't.
A game plan to tilt the privacy battlefield in users' favor
I think the fight should go beyond the right to privacy as the default. I urge lawmakers to require any company that uses your personal data to provide an annual summary of how much money it made from your information. If people knew how much was made off their data, they'd demand change -- or at least a cut of the proceeds (a few start-ups are trying to create a service around the very concept). These companies track a lot about you, so they can easily track what they sell that value for as well.
You know the industry would fight that proposal tooth and nail, but we may get a sense of how much people are giving away for a "free" service if the French government follows through on a proposal to tax Web giants like Google based on the value of the information they collect on users. Almost every major tech or Web company has been accused of tax evasion in Europe by shifting the money around in a way that pretends there is no income or profits in countries that tax businesses and instead declares it in countries that don't. It's legal, if dishonest.
Fed up by trying to figure out what money Google and the like made from French citizens' information, that government came up with the idea of simply taxing it on the value of that information. Even if the accountants move the income to low-tax Luxembourg, Cayman Islands, or Holland, the companies can't escape the tax on the value generated. I love the idea, and a few folks at a major accounting firm told me it was a brilliant way to get around the tax games companies have played so well (albeit with the complicity of some governments).
I'm all for businesses making money, but if I'm the product, I want creative control and a cut of the action I allow. I also want the right to have the information I get be kept pure, not skewed for someone else's sales agenda. I'll even pay for those free services in return for that purity. I hope I'm not alone. Because ultimately, as long as we delude ourselves into thinking free services have no cost, we'll encourage the privacy strip-mining to continue. When we do decide the service is worth giving up information about us, we should know exactly what information is used, for which purposes, and by whom.
At the end of the day, the good news is that people seem to be waking up to the "silent Big Brother" information state emerging. It's time to take action and to support those who have been fighting the battle already, and change our own behavior to favor those who donn't treat us like data cattle to be milked dry without really realizing it's happening.
In the battle of who owns you, there's a new chance of users winning. Let's take it -- and understand it is a battle.
This article, "Maybe, just maybe, users can win the privacy war," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.