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    Op-Ed at Los Angeles Times: It’s time to regulate consumer privacy

    In an opinion column for the Los Angeles Times, David Lazarus discusses privacy and the need for better protection for consumers:

    Some of the biggest names in the tech world joined forces Monday to tell Uncle Sam that enough’s enough: Quit spying on their customers.

    AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo said in an open letter to President Obama that in light of recent revelations about the National Security Agency snooping on websites and communications networks, there’s an “urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”

    That’s a pretty bold claim to the moral high ground considering that each of these companies routinely mines customer data for their own purposes (read: profit). […]

    The private sector always has had a troubled relationship with consumer privacy. On the one hand, companies insist that they take such issues very seriously and do their utmost to be responsible stewards of customers’ personal data.

    On the other, they’re not stupid. In-depth data about where we shop, what we buy, whom we communicate with and how we behave is a marketing treasure trove.

    Businesses benefit both from exploiting this information for their own purposes and selling it to others.

    Consumer data is arguably the single most valuable commodity in the corporate world. This is why it needs to be safeguarded and regulated like any other financial commodity. More on that in a moment. […]

    Some states, such as California, have enacted relatively strong privacy laws. Others are content to allow data crunchers to operate largely in the shadows.

    We don’t tolerate such ambiguity in financial markets. Various federal agencies monitor trading in everything from oil and corn to stocks and bonds.

    Why should consumer data be any different?

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