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Privacy & Data

Dialog on “Privacy Competition” Expands

As new technology expands our opportunities for social networking, information gathering, and content sharing, it also raises serious concerns about privacy. Last night, CDT participated in a privacy discussion at a Churchill Club event held at Microsoft in Mountainview, CA. The conversation, titled “Personalization versus Privacy: Balancing Business and Consumer Interests,” tackled issues ranging from government surveillance to targeted advertising and offered perspectives on the U.S. and global regulatory landscape. Panelists from Microsoft and Google, the California Office of Privacy Protection, and Jim Dempsey from CDT shared their views on crafting solutions to privacy problems. The panelists were careful to explain some of their assumptions and some of the technical and legal concepts; that format provided a good introduction and a nuanced treatment of the issues . Dempsey stressed that effective policy solutions can emerge from a mix of self-regulated business standards, good technology design, government regulation, and consumer education. The effectiveness of this multi-pronged approach was echoed several times throughout the night, most notably when Google announced its new policy to anonymize user IP logs after nine months instead of eighteen. Dempsey pointed out that this is a good example of why we need regulation, since the new policy was in large degree a response to long-standing pressure from the EU. Google and Microsoft panelists also engaged in some healthy sparring over their recently released browsers. When a question was raised from the audience about Microsoft’s IE8 surpassing Google’s Chrome in privacy enhanced browsing, Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general council, noted that Chrome was still in beta while the Microsoft product was in its 8th major version. “We should all want more competition for your privacy,” Wong said. While both companies are innovating in this area with privacy enhanced browsing and cutting down IP log retention time, they both admit that Internet users can’t rely solely on the willingness of business to do the right thing. In terms of consumer privacy, both Microsoft and Google have supported calls for federal privacy legislation. And, as Dempsey pointed out, with government access to unprecedented amounts of information just one subpoena away, we must improve the standards for governmental access.