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Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2012 by David E. Ross

We may also share information with select nonaffiliated third parties if … the disclosure otherwise is lawfully permitted.

From a credit union's privacy policy

'Real Life Adventures' cartoon, 'The bank just sent us a copy of its privacy policy', 'We have none!', 'You'd think they could pay more interest with what they get for selling your name'

Laws to protect individuals from having their privacy used as a business commodity are being fought on two fronts in the United States: internationally and domestically.

On the international front, the European Union now has laws that effectively prevent businesses from selling, trading, or otherwise disseminating personal information about their customers and employees. Complaints from U.S. businesses that want to operate in Europe and therefore must abide by those laws threatens to create a trade war between the E.U. and the U.S. Even our own government has branded those laws as unfair. In a joint letter from the Treasury and Commerce Departments, the Bush II administration described E.U. laws as imposing "unduly burdensome requirements that are incompatible with real world operations."

On the domestic front, laws proposed in Congress — definitely weaker than the laws already in force in the E.U. — have triggered major lobbying efforts to defeat them. Business organizations — joined by top members of President Bush's administration — claim these laws would be too costly.

This political opposition to privacy laws raises several questions:

Perhaps that last question is the key to the whole issue. If so, the time has come to tell businesses that there are some commodities that should not be merchandised. Since personal information really would not exist if we did not live our lives, this is indeed one of those commodities.

In the meantime, rather than fighting the E.U. over privacy legislation, our own government should embrace the very same laws. No, this would not be over-regulation. U.S. companies have already demonstrated that self-imposed privacy rules mean we have no privacy.

1 April 2001
(but no April Fool's joke)

Because of the growing problem of identity theft, privacy has become much more important since I wrote the above. The widespread dissemination of personal information about us by various businesses is the primary resource of identity thieves. In recognition of the growth of this crime, California and other states — seeing inaction at the federal level — have enacted stringent laws to limit the dissemination of personal information. In response, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are railroading a law that would address identity theft by overturning those state laws. The federal approach will not prevent identity theft, it will only punish the thieves after they destroy our credit worthiness and our reputations.

One of the most important pieces of personal data used by identity thieves is your Social Security number (SSN). You must protect this.

When I first wrote this commentary, I was merely annoyed with the thought that businesses were profiting by trading in my personal data, data that exists only because of my actions. And not only businesses were profiting; even non-profit charities generated revenues by selling information about their donors. Now we find that criminals are profiting, too; and we can suffer real harm.

By the way, I am an officer of a public charity whose privacy policy generally prohibits any disclosure of personal information unless the law mandates disclosure. This is quite the opposite of those privacy policies that say — as the credit union's policy quoted at the top of this page — that they will disclose whatever is permitted by law.

9 November 2003

Buying, selling, and exchanging personal information about you and me is a very big business. Therefore, Congress passed and President Bush signed a federal law that invalidates state laws that restrict such commerce. This new law punishes identity theft after it happens but does little to prevent such crimes.

9 December 2003

The following was found on a site that distributes a Firefox add-on for downloading YouTube videos. While it appear facetious, it illustrates the reality of privacy when using search services, social networks, and other means of communicating through third-party Internet services.

Privacy Policy

We firmly believe that privacy is unimportant and meaningless to you. If it were not, you probably would not have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account: and you certainly wouldn't ever use a search engine like Google. If you're one of those tin-foil-hat crazies that actually cares about privacy: stop using our services and get a life.

We agree with Mark Zuckerberg when he pithily opined "The age of Privacy is Over."

Our privacy policy is a reflection of this conviction. Therefore, to satisfy the absurd privacy requirements of various legal entities (and so you understand exactly where you stand with us) we are pleased to present our privacy policy:

  1. We are the company that cares about your privacy. Specifically, while most other companies are concerned with protecting your privacy, we care about profiteering and violating it when expedient or useful.
  2. You may think of using any of our programs or services as the privacy equivalent of living in a webcam fitted glass house under the unblinking eye of Big Brother: you have no privacy with us. If we can use any of your details to legally make a profit, we probably will.
  3. We will track and log everything we can about all the dirty (and clean) things you do and like with cookies, GPS, secure connections and or whatever technology exists today or becomes available at any time in the future.
  4. By using any of our services, you grant us permission to surgically implant a tracking microchip of our choosing in your body and sell all collected information to the highest bidder … and to all other bidders. You also agree to regular updates and reinstalls of said device entirely at our discretion for up to 50 years after the end of your natural life.
  5. If the opportunity arises to sell or otherwise use this or any information, data or meta data about you or your world, we will jump at that opportunity like a pitbull on a fresh steak
  6. Please email us to tell us some of your secrets. We may, at our sole discretion (or lack thereof), broadcast, reveal, sell, manipulate, or otherwise use these secrets, or any information we collect to our benefit whenever, wherever, and however we choose.
  7. We are right now looking at you through your webcam. Do you always move your lips like that when you read? We also recorded what you were doing last week and are sending the video to (you know who). If the prior statements are not true, it's because in addition to everything else, we reserve the right to lie to you, and you agree to believe us and hold us harmless for any and all such lies. Furthermore, if we are not recording everything you're doing through your webcam, it's either because we haven't figured out how, you're just not that interesting, or both.
  8. We are serious about all of the above. So don't go trying to sue us later with some nonsense like "I thought that was all satire." All your privacy are belong to us. We mean it.
  9. Cookies: We like chocolate chip cookies. You agree to furnish any employee or associate of our company with fresh chocolate chip cookies upon request. That's the price of using our programs and or services (in addition to any other price we come up with).
  10. Spam. You agree that nothing we do with the access and information you grant to us shall be called Spam: even if it is. We prefer the term "bacon", because … mmmmmmmm bacon.

My copyright does not include the contents of this box.
Instead, credit belongs to Konverts and Skipity, whoever they are.

20 February 2012

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