The New York Times reports on the ease with which individuals’ privacy can be eroded online:
Yet people often dole out all kinds of personal information on the Internet that allows such identifying data to be deduced. Services like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are oceans of personal minutiae â€” birthday greetings sent and received, school and work gossip, photos of family vacations, and movies watched.
Computer scientists and policy experts say that such seemingly innocuous bits of self-revelation can increasingly be collected and reassembled by computers to help create a picture of a personâ€™s identity, sometimes down to the Social Security number.
â€œTechnology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete,â€ said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commissionâ€™s privacy division. â€œYou can find out who an individual is without it.â€ […]
In social networks, people can increase their defenses against identification by adopting tight privacy controls on information in personal profiles. Yet an individualâ€™s actions, researchers say, are rarely enough to protect privacy in the interconnected world of the Internet.
You may not disclose personal information, but your online friends and colleagues may do it for you, referring to your school or employer, gender, location and interests. Patterns of social communication, researchers say, are revealing.Â […]
More generally, privacy advocates worry that the new frontiers of data collection, brokering and mining, are largely unregulated. They fear â€œonline redlining,â€ where products and services are offered to some consumers and not others based on statistical inferences and predictions about individuals and their behavior.
The F.T.C. and Congress are weighing steps like tighter industry requirements and the creation of a â€œdo not trackâ€ list, similar to the federal â€œdo not callâ€ list, to stop online monitoring.