Four Articles from New York Times on Privacy, Do Not Track, Targeted Ads, Identity Theft and International Data-sharing
The New York Times has had a lot of coverage about privacy in the last few days, including an editorial concerning the Federal Trade Commission privacy report (pdf) released last week. In “Protecting Online Privacy,” the Times editorial board highlights some of the problems individuals face concerning their online data and endorses some of the FTC’s suggestions for improving privacy protections.
And most important, the F.T.C. insists that consumers be given a clear, simple option to opt out of online data tracking altogether — along the lines of the do-not-call registry — perhaps through a “do not track” button on Web browsers.
Advertisers argue that allowing surfers to opt out of tracking en masse would hobble the ad revenues that support most Web sites. This argument is overblown. Giving Americans the choice to opt out of data tracking does not mean everybody will. Moreover, even if regulation limits advertisers’ ability to precisely target their ads according to consumers’ tastes, they will still need to advertise. They will just do it differently.
In a news article, “In Online Privacy Plan, the Opt-Out Question Looms,” the Times looks at the arguments used by marketers in their support of online targeted behavioral advertising and criticism of a federal Do Not Track system.
If the vast majority of online users chose not to have their Internet activity tracked, the proposed “do not track” system could have a severe effect on the industry, some experts say. It would cause major harm to the companies like online advertising networks, small and midsize publishers and technology companies like Yahoo that earn a large percentage of their revenue from advertising that is tailored to users based on the sites they have visited. [...]
The F.T.C. advocated the use of a device that could be built into a browser and signal to a Web site that the user did not want to be tracked or receive tailored advertisements. Advertisers say they would prefer to build upon the current self-regulatory system, which uses icons next to ads that, when clicked on, take users to a page where they can opt out.
“It’s the house already half-built. It’s just missing a window here and there,” said Xuhui Shao, chief technology officer for Turn, an ad software and services company. The commission’s proposed system would be harmful to publishers and ad networks, he said, because it would force them to adopt more contextual advertising, which is less effective and therefore less profitable.
Users who opted out would still receive ads, but they would be generic or solely based on the content of the page a user is viewing.
In another news article, “Service Members Face New Threat: Identity Theft,” the Times leaves the Do Not Track issue and focuses on the possibility of identity theft for members of the armed services.
At bases and outposts at home and around the world, military personnel continue to use their Social Security numbers as personal identifiers in dozens of everyday settings, from filling out health forms to checking out basketballs at the gym. Thousands of soldiers in Iraq even stencil the last four digits onto their laundry bags.
All of this is putting members of the military at heightened risk for identity theft. That is the conclusion of a scathing new report written by an Army intelligence officer turned West Point professor, Lt. Col. Gregory Conti. The report concludes that the military needs to rid itself of a practice that has been widespread since the 1960s. [...]
Representatives for the military say they are aware of the problem and are taking steps to fix it, with the Navy and Marines making efforts in the last few months. The Defense Department said in 2008 that it was moving to limit the use of Social Security numbers, and in a statement last week it said the numbers would no longer appear on new military ID cards as of May. [...]
He cites practices already being dismantled that he says defy common sense, like using a Social Security number to check out a racquet or towel at the gym, get a flu shot or buy a pair of pants at a ship commissary.
I can’t find the recent report by Conti cited in the article, but his personal Web page has links to interesting articles that he’s written about privacy.
In another article, “Europe Wary of U.S. Bank Monitors,” the Times looks at the issue of data-sharing among countries:
When the European Parliament ordered a halt in February to an American government program to monitor international banking transactions for terrorist activity, the Obama administration was blindsided by the rebuke. “Paranoia runs deep especially about US intelligence agencies,” a secret cable from the American Embassy in Berlin said. [...]
The memo was among dozens of State Department cables that revealed the deep distrust of some traditional European allies toward what they considered American intrusion into their citizens’ affairs without stringent oversight.
The program, created in secrecy by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has allowed American counterterrorism officials to examine banking transactions routed through a vast database run by a Brussels consortium known as Swift. When the program was disclosed in 2006 by The New York Times, just months after the newspaper reported the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, it set off protests in Europe and forced the United States to accept new restrictions.
But by 2010, new leaders at the European Parliament had what one State Department memo called “a fixation” on privacy issues. On Feb. 10, the Europeans voted 378 to 196 to halt the Swift program. [...]
After mobilizing top officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the administration was able to reverse course. The European Parliament voted 484 to 109 in July to restart the program after the United States made modest concessions that promised greater European oversight.
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