Opinion at Washington Post: Facebook and Google aren’t the only ones who need to reexamine online privacy
The Washington Post’s technology columnist, Rob Pegoraro, has an opinion column about online privacy, and though he covers the recent privacy scandals at Facebook at Google, he looks beyond them, too.
The social network is in the doghouse for the misuse of some users’ data by applications it installed on their pages.
The Web-services giant earned itself multiple government investigations – including an inquiry launched by the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday – for collecting data from people’s wireless networks as part of its Street View mapping project.
Both of these episodes show that we need to upgrade how we think about privacy online – starting with the vocabulary we use. The Facebook and Google issues have both been called “breaches.” But they’re not. The information at stake in each case was already public by any meaningful definition. It would have remained public no matter how good or evil the two companies had been. […]
But if you’re on Facebook, your basic identity remains as visible to everybody else on the site as before – in the same way the White Pages broadcast your identity to anybody who still gets the phone book. If you want to be angry about all that, don’t gripe about evil app developers or Web coding by Facebook that made it too easy for them to capture this data. You should blame the site for its default settings. […]
In Google’s case, the problem began with people leaving their wireless networks unencrypted. People have been neglecting to take this simple step since the arrival of consumer-grade WiFi routers, either because they’re confused about its necessity (see the puzzled questions about it in this 2004 chat transcript) or because most routers’ hideous configuration interfaces make it too difficult to activate strong “WPA” encryption. […]
A real [privacy] breach exposes private information you tried to keep confidential, in ways that risk the loss of money or security or otherwise fairly earn the adjective “Orwellian.”