National Public Radio’s “On the Media” has an interview with Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz concerning several issues, including privacy.
NPR: I want to ask you about privacy. Let me begin by framing the issue in the most alarming terms I can think of. The fact is companies such as Google and Microsoft and Yahoo and many that, you know, you’ve never heard of have the ability not only to track your movements surfing on the web but to record every keystroke that you type online and then they use these data to target you with advertising. Which obviously creeps a lot of people out, and especially privacy hawks, who have asked the FTC in a couple of cases to intervene. How big an issue is privacy?
Leibowitz: Well, from our point of view, it’s very, very important. Obviously, there is a benefit from things like behavioral marketing. Consumers get more targeted ads, which generally they like. And more importantly than that, it supplies the free content on the Internet that we all use and have grown to expect.
On the other hand, imagine that you were walking through a shopping mall and there was someone who walking behind you and taking notes on everywhere you went and sending it off to anyone who was interested for a small fee. That would be very disturbing, I think, to most people. To some extent, we see a version of that on the Internet, because information is taken from consumers. And, for the most part that information is anonymized, which is good
NPR: Anonymized — that means that whoever has it cannot track it back to you, Jon Leibowitz the individual, but to your — maybe your browser or IP address, maybe?
Leibowitz: Well, they might be able to track it back to your IP address and there’s a question about whether if you can track something back to someone’s IP address it’s almost the same as personal information. I kind of think it is. But for the most part, they try to anonymize this information and they try to protect it, but not every company has great data security. And beyond that, consumers ought to be informed in a clear way about the choices that they make.
Listen to the full interview here.