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“The Internet Of Every Damn Thing”: Face It, Personal Gadgetry Tied To The Internet Is Selling Data About Your Habits To Businesses

Federal Trade Commission head Edith Ramirez put the matter plainly: “If I’m wearing a fitness band that tracks how many calories I consume, I wouldn’t want to share that data with an insurance company.”

In a study last year, the FTC found that 12 mobile fitness apps shared information with 76 enterprises. Face it; personal gadgetry tied to the Internet is selling data about your habits to businesses — and in ways you have no idea about.

These devices now range from home burglar alerts to apps that turn off the porch light to toothbrushes. As of this year, there will be 25 billion such things.

Hence, the FTC has just suggested some guidelines for neat but sneaky gear. They’re in a new report, titled “Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World.”

I’d sort of given up on the privacy part. The choices have become so complex that I apply a simple rule. Anything I absolutely don’t want the world to see, I don’t put online. Period.

My Facebook friends know they will never see a look-what-I-just-bought post. As for my Web surfing, my life is not an open book, but if someone should disclose my interests, I’d be OK. I have an excuse for everything.

The potential problems arise with those very useful apps that need my personal information to do their job. Sure, I want Google Maps to know where I am. And if I had some serious medical condition, I’d want a monitoring device communicating with my doctor. But there’s a dark side: Some evil being could invade this data flow and change the medical settings.

I don’t see why my movie ticket app should always know my whereabouts. Fandango gives us two choices on giving it access to our location. One is “Never,” and the other is “Always. Access to your location will be available even when this app is in the background.”

Fandango thoughtfully provides a five-page privacy policy written in fluent legalese. It includes a discourse on its use of “Pixel Tags,” invisible files on the Web pages you visit. The point is that few consumers wade through these privacy policies, and even fewer have the faintest idea what they’re talking about.

The electric company sends me reports on my energy use and how it compares with that of neighbors. My most virtuous months seem to be those in which I’m not at home. My vacation schedule is unbeknownst to the company, I hope.

The FTC report calls for new rules governing the sort of information Internet-connected devices may collect, how it is used and how secure it is. This is a valiant effort, and I wish the regulators luck. But if hackers can break in to movie stars’ private photo files, what can we realistically do to protect our secret stashes from prying eyes?

Smartphone sensors can already guess a user’s sour mood, aggressive personality, pathetically low level of physical activity, sleeping difficulties and other behavioral patterns. And such snooping is perfectly legal.

In the end, consumers will have to decide: How much is the convenience of turning up the heat at home before leaving the office worth? What drives me nuts is all the thinking and research we have to do in balancing the trade-offs — and the attention that must be paid to various app settings.

The only current solution is to unscrew what you want kept private from the Internet. If you’ve forgotten how to use paper, you can put the information on a device not connected to the Internet — and then trip over the plug. Five minutes spent on some app’s privacy policy may convince you of the wisdom of primitive living.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, February 29, 2015

January 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Trade Commission, Internet, Social Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Interest Of The Public”: Barack Obama’s Plan To Save The Internet Is Perfect

This week, President Barack Obama came out in favor of net neutrality, the idea that all content on the internet should flow freely and equally without any intervention from service providers.

Specifically, Obama wants to categorize the internet under something called Title II, which would classify the internet as a utility, just like telephone lines.

This scares the pants off internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, etc. All of these companies have come out in favor of “the open internet,” but their definition of “open” is much different from what net neutrality purists want.

The fear is that unless ISPs are categorized under Title II, there could be a chilling effect on innovation when someone wants to create the next major internet company like Netflix, YouTube, or, say, Business Insider. ISPs could slow down content from the new companies in favor of their own content.

ISPs swear they don’t want to slow down rival content. And they are probably telling the truth. But under one proposal the FCC is considering, ISPs would, rather than slow down traffic, be able to make their web content get to you faster, giving them an advantage. So while ISPs and the FCC say all content on the internet will be equal, the reality is that some content will be more equal than the rest.

Critics say Obama’s proposal will stifle innovation because it will keep service costs low and slow down companies’ ability to invest more in infrastructure.

But the problem with that argument is that investment in building out broadband networks is already slowing, as Matthew Yglesias of Vox pointed out this spring. Telecom companies invested $17.65 billion in broadband between 2005 and 2008. But that investment fell to $12.24 billion between 2009 and 2013. Meanwhile, the cost of internet access continues to increase. Americans also get slower speeds for what they pay compared with other countries, according to the Open Technology Institute.

It’s also worth noting that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist, representing all the big ISPs. That makes it tough to trust that his proposals are in the interest of the public, not the ISPs.

That’s why Obama is right. ISPs have done nothing to prove that internet access won’t get more expensive over time. They have also done nothing to guarantee they won’t start favoring their services over those of rivals. As the proposals stand, there is still wiggle room for ISPs favor some content over others.

Obama’s Title II proposal is the only approach that guarantees the internet will be a level playing field for everyone. He put it best in his statement Monday:

For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.

In other words, the internet has become as vital to commerce and communications as phone lines were decades ago. Giving companies that have demonstrated only that they want to profit off that communication without investing in improving it and making it more affordable is a dangerous path.

 

By: Steve Kovach, Business Insider, November 12, 2014

November 16, 2014 Posted by | Internet, Net Neutrality | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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