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    Wall Street Journal: Web’s Hot New Commodity: Privacy

    The Wall Street Journal continues its in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. In the latest installment, the Journal looks at the commodification of privacy:

    As the surreptitious tracking of Internet users becomes more aggressive and widespread, tiny start-ups and technology giants alike are pushing a new product: privacy. Companies including Microsoft Corp., McAfee Inc.—and even some online-tracking companies themselves—are rolling out new ways to protect users from having their movements monitored online. Some are going further and starting to pay people a commission every time their personal details are used by marketing companies. […]

    The Wall Street Journal’s year-long What They Know investigation into online tracking has exposed a fast-growing network of hundreds of companies that collect highly personal details about Internet users—their online activities, political views, health worries, shopping habits, financial situations and even, in some cases, their real names—to feed the $26 billion U.S. online-advertising industry. […]

    As people are becoming more aware of the value of their data, some are seeking to protect it, and sometimes sell it. In January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, executives and academics gathered to discuss how to turn personal data into an “asset class” by giving people the right to manage and sell it on their own behalf. […]

    Allow […] is just one of nearly a dozen start-ups hoping to profit from the nascent privacy market. Several promise to pay people a commission on the sale of their data. Others offer free products to block online tracking, in the hopes of later selling users other services—such as disposable phone numbers or email addresses that make personal tracking tougher. Still others sell paid services, such as removing people’s names from marketing databases. […]

    For the lightly regulated tracking industry, a big test of the new privacy marketplace is whether it will quiet the growing chorus of critics calling for tougher government oversight. Lawmakers this month introduced two separate privacy bills in Congress, and in December the Obama administration called for an online-privacy “bill of rights.” The Federal Trade Commission is pushing for a do-not-track system inspired by the do-not-call registry that blocks phone calls from telemarketers.

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