News


Off Deadline: Why don't more people care about the stealing of their privacy?

 

Protecting — or losing — one's personal privacy is becoming a political hot topic.

After literally decades of warnings about loss of personal privacy without too much public response, a new push is emerging to emulate what Europe has done.


Jay Thorwaldson
The European Union (EU) has adopted stringent privacy-protection laws that allow individuals to actually really truly control and even delete information about them stored in vast private and governmental computer databanks.

Now some citizens and leaders in the United States, the bastion of personal freedom historically, would like to adopt similar laws to curtail what has been called a "Wild West" of unregulated anarchy.

Former state Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, currently a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, has been one of those leaders. In July 2011, he sponsored a bill to provide what was termed "21st century privacy protections" to library users, including use of internet communications on library computers, and in November 2011, he spearheaded a resolution recognizing the 10th anniversary of the California Office of Privacy Protection.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook, in a break from other "Big Tech" leaders, actively promoted better privacy protections on a recent episode of "60 Minutes," which revealed how vast and insidious computer-assisted monitoring has become with the rise of tech-based huge firms such as Facebook and Google.

"Our own information from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead," Cook said of the EU laws.

The program also contained interviews with officials from Facebook, Google and others accused of rampant violations of privacy — the secretive dark side of Silicon Valley high-tech innovations.

"A consensus is developing that something has to change and once again the impetus is coming from Europe which is becoming the world's leader in internet privacy and data protection," Steve Kroft reported, citing "a tough new law that has Silicon Valley scrambling to comply, and pressuring lawmakers here to do something about protecting your data." The program, complete with a written transcript, is available here.

"Is 2013 the year that should be engraved on the tombstone of privacy?" was the lead question in a Jan. 3, 2014, "Silicon Beat" report by Levi Sumagaysay on the implications of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA privacy-related tracking of individual's electronic communications. "Can some semblance of privacy be reclaimed in 2014, or is it forever lost?" he asked. This is not the first, or the last, time that question will be raised.

But another question is vitally important to ask also: Why isn't there more public outrage and resistance about the corporate and government "harvesting" of personal data?

One reason is that people are just so busy with day-to-day living there is an exhaustion barrier. Another is that individuals feel there's not much they can do about it anyway — the so-called grain-of-sand-on-a-beach "What can I do?" barrier.

There are personal steps one can take, such as encryption programs. But those tend to be cumbersome or at least complicated, and take time in a rushed era. Most states have laws against "cyberstalking."

But there are regular revelations about new technology, such as digital "facial recognition" programs that may be implemented to speed check-ins at airports and, almost certainly, numerous other applications not too far down the road.

My personal interest in privacy protection dates back to 1991, when my then-housemate Jim Warren of Woodside spearheaded the so-called "First Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy."

At his request, I handled media relations for what became a nationally publicized conference. We made it a point to encourage interaction between attendees and participants, and those involved ranged from legal and illegal hackers to representatives of the CIA and Secret Service. There were privacy advocates and libertarians and law-enforcement people attending.

One illegal hacker (some called those "crackers") introduced Warren and me to "my arresting officer and prosecuting attorney" as we headed to lunch.

That was in 1991, approaching three decades ago!

So another question I have is why, despite the good efforts that have been made in California and elsewhere, hasn't more been done in the privacy-protection arena?

Heavy lobbying by heavy hitters such as Facebook and Google and others has been cited to explain the studied silence and paralysis on the topic nationally and at state levels.

In Europe, the EU coalition of multiple nations, were substantially more immune to the lobbying efforts of the big-tech firms and more strongly aware perhaps of the evils that can happen with totalitarian regimes with universal information about individuals.

That all has a George Orwell "1980" ring to it, but 1980 was a long time ago technologically speaking, and checking in to Big Government once a day is nothing compared to being tracked everywhere you go with your Android smartphone.

At the 1991 CFP1 conference, I made the comment that I wasn't so much concerned with "Big Brother" as "with the 10,000 Little Big Brothers" out there: the private companies that increasingly can (and will) mine your information to manipulate you and your family members and sell you anything from soap to political candidates.

I don't think I could say that about Big Brother today, post-Snowden's revelations about the vast extent of governmental secret-spying programs.

Now the real challenge is to move past the years of talk about protecting privacy and see if there's a constituency out there that will demand that real, effective action be taken.

Americans may hate to admit that someone else might be ahead of them in terms of innovation or action on any subject.

But in this case, perhaps the fledgling discussion relating to enacting EU-stule laws on protection — actually meaning "restoring" protections — on privacy may become on of the political hot topics of the next year or two.

Even, or especially, in influential Silicon Valley and the Palo Alto/Stanford University axis.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at jaythor@well.com.

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Comments

28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:20 am

Hand in glove with this, in my opinion, is the fact that having an opinion and being able to express that opinion, is no longer possible. Taking offense, causing offense and being offended are the rules and even if you have a respectful opinion that counters the current trend of Political Correct ideals, then you are shouted out and your name and opinion is forever sullied.

Being anonymous is something that has had to be done in order to remain sane. Along with privacy and identity issues, hiding an opinion has to be done in order to get a job or even keep a job. Social media is being watched for anyone who even surreptitiously appears to step out of line when it comes to college's searching their prospective student's background as well as HR departments. Background checks now are not just looking for whether someone has done something illegal in the past, but whether they have passed an opinion on something that is contrary to the current PC agenda.

We have to understand that there are some pros to the idea of checking for potential dangerous activities such as terrorism or the possibility of mass shootings (aka domestic terror events), but at what cost do these come to personal freedom for the majority of law abiding people.

Being in University should be the time to investigate various differing points of view. They should be teaching how to think not what to think. Unfortunately now, it is the beginning of a long list of background items that will be with the individual until the time of their demise. Something said in a questioning moment at a coming of age and rite of passage event, can be held against them for the rest of their lives - often only appearing 30 or 40 years down the road when the maturity of an individual's life at that stage can be influenced by a brief moment of youthful supposed failure.

Today as we raise our children we are having to tell them that they have to be careful what they do or say not only online but to acquaintances who just might turn against them as adults when they can get their 5 minutes of fame or big bucks from a paparazzi type source. Too many lives, careers and potential good people are being destroyed by a momentary lapse in judgment and good taste. Political Correctness at the present time reigns supreme and who knows what the next faux pas will turn out to be.

Privacy has gone for some time. I doubt very much if we will ever get it back.


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:31 am

Online privacy has been scuttled by the advertising industry (I'm looking at you Google and Facebook). One little thing you can do to fight back is always use an ad-blocker when browsing the web, since that reduces their ability to track you. Also, don't create accounts or login to websites that don't need your private information. Obviously, banks and doctors need to authenticate you, but newspapers do not. They want you to login so they can steal your privacy for advertising purposes.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2019 at 4:12 pm

I agree 99% with the sense of the article and responses, but, the 1% reservation that I have is important. It is equally as important to retain public access to records of the misdeeds of the 1% super-rich as it is to retain everyone's personal privacy. The EU has gone too far, in that the plutocracy is using EU regulations to remove public information about past misconduct and history: Web Link Drawing the line between public and private is tricky in practice-- see the recent controversies involving the National Enquirer: Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2019 at 5:56 pm

News reports say that the Trump administration is planning to fine a certain Menlo Park company billions of dollars ("B" as in real money) over privacy leaks. Will this change how these companies do business? CNN news report: Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 9:35 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: That all has a George Orwell "1980" ring to it...

You mean George Orwell's "1984" (1949) along with the classic line, 'Big Brother is watching you'.

This goes without saying. It just took added technology to accomplish the task...the intentions were always there.


3 people like this
Posted by Comes With the Territory
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:17 pm

People care but there is nothing that can be done about it.

Modern life & its conveniences = data breaches, loss of privacy & personal info being sold to other vendors.

Comes with the territory. We are not living in the 19th century.


5 people like this
Posted by Not Playing With Mr Z
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 16, 2019 at 3:56 pm

"Hand in glove with this, in my opinion, is the fact that having an opinion and being able to express that opinion, is no longer possible. Taking offense, causing offense and being offended are the rules ..."

Oh yeah? Well, I find that statement offensive. People have never been pleased with being misrepresented, nor have they embraced people who do it. I recommend you examine your opinions from the viewpoint of their targets. (You are totally free to take offense at this opinion.)

To the topic. It's simple. People like the bait enough to ignore the hook, even when they know the hook is there. As Mr Kaiser might have put it, find a weakness and exploit it.


3 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2019 at 4:37 pm

If you want privacy they you are going to have to pay for all the things you currently get for free.

The companies whose products you use have to make money somehow. Either you are going to pay a subscription fee (ala Lexis/Nexis/AOL/Compuserve) or you are going to have to be targeted by advertising.

The subscription services died as soon as free advertising supported services appeared around 1993. Everyone wants Facebook, Twitter, Google search, etc but they would never pay the amount necessary to buy a subscription service.

Mark Zuckerberg was clear in his testimony to congress, there isn't anyway for Facebook to generate the revenue it does based on a subscription model. No one is going to pay hundreds/thousands of dollars a year for access to facebook (to use one example).

If you want it for free (which everyone does, including all the people who complain) then you are going to have to give up your privacy.

/marc


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 16, 2019 at 4:43 pm

If Mark was serious about that privacy option, he would offer it for real instead of just making speeches. Right now there is no option and Facebook even collects private data on people who do not use Facebook.


3 people like this
Posted by Everything Is Public Nowadays
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 16, 2019 at 8:34 pm

Everything is public nowadays. No way of getting around it.

But the ones who frequent social media & then complain are barking up the wrong tree as they asked for it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 9:18 pm

Your answers are all too complicated. It’s quite simple. The answer is $$$$$$$$$$$$. Capitalist USA values profits over people.


10 people like this
Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Hal Plotkin is a registered user.

Good to see a new column from you, Jay. I share your concerns and add this: I am also shocked to see so little public outrage over local tech company sales of survillance services to ruthless dictators around the world. The late Congressman Tom Lantos was the last public official I know about to draw attention to the immoral practice of arming dictators with the most powerful tools of oppression ever made - something that leading Russian and Israeli tech firms have also been caught doing. Lantos called Cisco and others on the carpet for their deplorable actions - but narry another legislator has made a peep about it since then - they are busy instead raising money from folks they should be investigating. I don't think either of us would ever have imagined the current state of affairs - or the way money has corrupted our civic culture back when you and Jim put together that conference 30 years ago. It boggles the mind.


5 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2019 at 8:23 am

Most of the theft is out of view while the front end dangles an illusion of community. The back end sale of the essential you, and your children, as a whole, is really bad stuff. We begin to understand that front end, which exploits people’s needs and facinations with each other with synthetic life experiences and far too much screen time - especially for the young - actually has real negatives for our society. Zuckerberg has been vastly enriched by peddling addiction.
I don’t think people see the long term. It’s likely, now with these monopolies of information, controlled by the very few, means that it soon becomes impossible to determine the truth about anything. Reality is determined for you in the ads, news, products, and carefully tailored information delivered to a ‘you’ defined by a machine.
We really all should care about these things. It’s not just listening in to your living room conversations, tracking everything you do, linkages between your insurance rates and how much wine you drink and tailoring news to what you ‘want’ to hear. It’s not just drones outside your windows it’s the whole that is increasingly defining who you are. That will define opportunity and who gets rewarded.
Opting out of this is an essential tool that people should have. Technology, AI has to be something we use to enhance human experience, not something Zuckerberg’s own to control it. We have let ourselves become the product and Zuck’s bank account and this really does need to be changed.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2019 at 9:41 am

The problem has been going on for some time. The chips in our passports, the new Real ID drivers license, the chips in our credit cards the transponders in our cars to cross bridges are all modern, but even 30 years ago with the very first loyalty cards schemes in chain stores and the targeted advertising and coupons that came from them knowing what brand of toothpaste we were buying which meant it was happening then.

What bothers me as much as anything is the Alexa box that people don't seem to mind having in their house which is listening to every word being said in the event that the magic name wakes it up. Anyone who thinks that Alexa is not in a position to start listening in or recording is naivete at the least.

With the new toll lane diamond lanes that need a transponder to pay we will be giving up even more data to Big Brother.

The Facebook and Google searches are only a tip of the iceberg as far as I can see.

The need to pay and register for PAW Town Square is another aspect. It is not that I have anything against paying for a service I value and use, but the fact that data will be collected by the cookies is something I am not happy about.

We all have to learn that we are being watched. From car license readers to credit card activity and some forms of facial recognition technology, privacy is not going to happen.


1 person likes this
Posted by Martha Dogood
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2019 at 9:47 am

Martha Dogood is a registered user.

There is another way, tho Zuck won’t like it and he’ll have to give up a lot of his marbles. Yet it would create massive new business opportunities to create the nextgen humanist network. Consider this: the currency of the 21st Century is information and identity, or who defines identity, both your identity and everyone else’s (which has always been the currency of power). In 16th Century England, the King/Queen controlled information and decided who was a Duke or a peasant. What changed in about the 1990-2010 decades was the foundation of the 21st Century network of information and identity was built. Zuck was one of the first to fully exploit it. Google is sometimes evil, sometimes not, they get a lot of credit for simply trying to make it easier to travel on this network, search information and self-learn. However Google is now on the edge of abusing their power everyday.

Now, here is where it can and should be all turned on it’s head: information and identity should be treated as carefully and privately as our money. I can’t see how much you have in your bank account and likewise, the last bastion of privacy left. The same needs to be made for our privacy, information and identity. Imagine a world where your private information and identity is treated as carefully and protected as securely as your money, and when you want to access information you decide how to purchase that access. For example, if you want to be part of a network that connects you with everyone else, for free, you will need to give that service provider some money or some information, or some combination of both.

The big difference in this model is the individual has 100% power over turning on and off various toggle switches of “yes you can know Y or share Z about me with party X.” The individual would also have complete view into exactly how his or her information is shared. The corporate service providers will need to bid for the individual to join its network or hire its services. By implementing a worldwide technology standard, as in telecommunication networks, this can and should be achieved. It’s analogous to the telecom industry of past: I gave Pacbell money, they installed phone which communicated with my sister using Bellsouth phone in GA, and I decided to use an unlisted number (remember those days! Before telemarketing computers called you incessantly?). Since this model has not been built yet, I’m not on Facebook, they don’t get any information about me since I don’t buy into their “free” oneway parasitic scheme.

This new model can happen with massively expanded and complex networks, yet ultimately the individual’s privacy and identity would need to be treated with the highest level of respect. Whether you’re a billionaire or a waiter working your way through night school, you are afforded the same privacy protections. When you go onto the network, you decide what information you give, including location, etc, the service/information providers can bid for your information. You can effortlessly turn your preferences on and off, not like today. In human existence there will always be the problem of the rich and powerful versus the poor. Yet in the US we created the best system possible to allow meritocracy to flourish, it’s not perfect but very solid. If we continue to protect and enforce the principals of individual liberty and pursuit of human happiness (not computer network happiness), and update our regulations to serve these principals, then we can keep AI, Facebook and others at heel. The network needs to be at our service and not the other way around. We have a solid U.S. Constitution to guide us through this.


6 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2019 at 10:42 am

I think it's not that people don't care about stealing of their privacy, it's just that the same technology is stealing their time and attention so effectively, they can't do anything about it.

Also, the Republican-led destruction of the Democratic system we fought a revolution and other wars to defend, like a World war, believing it to be the best form of governance, is now a plutocracy (a fancy way of saying NOT a democracy), and doing something about stuff we care about is a whole different ballgame. Millions of people do care about protecting our Democratic government of, by, and for the people against this relentless rightwing push to destroy it since the '80s, but the reality is that ordinary people have been losing that battle and the ones winning it are also those who benefit from destroying privacy.


16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2019 at 11:35 am

The UK government accuses Mark Zuckerberg of being a "digital gangster".

"Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world's biggest companies"

Is this someone we want to have living in our city?

CNBC news report: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2019 at 7:11 pm

We were never ment to be a pure Democracy, though many think we are. We are a Republic, elected representatives, in theory, represent our views. Here in California, of course, we are a one party monopoly of a deeply rooted Democratic party machine. People in California think they get a right to vote but the Democrats maintain a carefully honed system of insiders who, like Harris and Newsome are garanteed to inherit the next vacancy in a carfully maintained machine. So, no, @Citizen, by no means do you live in a democracy.

And, you seem to think Republicans are compromising you privacy. The Silicon robber barons are Democrats, not Republicans. ‘The ones winning it...’ are Democrats.

Raise a glass to a Republican at the next company inclusion event and you’ll immediately find yourself included among the unemployed. Not very democratic.


3 people like this
Posted by PC Ryder
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2019 at 8:26 pm

Perverts should not have the right to privacy because many of them are operating outside of the law & need to be monitored for the protection of society as a whole.



10 people like this
Posted by HelenDavies
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 19, 2019 at 1:02 am

HelenDavies is a registered user.

The question is - why would they?

What I means is, from the early childhood the current generations are taught that personal privacy, especially in the digital world is non-existent. I am obviously talking about social media here. Young people believe that is it absolutely OK to share their data, tell the world what they do, who they know, where they work and so on. If you are brought up, believing that it is just normal to post the picture of your breakfast online everyday, why would you give a second thought to privacy. Most young people want their privacy gone, because they believe it makes them more like celebrities.

Don't get me wrong - I am all about teaching the young people that giving away their personal data is a terrible idea. But after years of being under control of social media, I am not sure if those minds can be changed.

Just to share some of my thoughts.

Helen

Web Link
==========================================================================


8 people like this
Posted by Not a user
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2019 at 12:09 pm

I've never used Facebook since I learned that Zuck's first success was in college where he created a database of the "hotest" girls for the boys to use.

That predatory effort exhibited a lack of empathy for other people and willingness to use them. It was a strong indicator of his character and I wanted nothing to do with him or his work. It seems it was an accurate predictive indicator.



Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 19, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Oh boy, I can hardly wait to see the 2020 census questionnaire.


2 people like this
Posted by Most is inane
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2019 at 5:47 pm

Ok, a lot of surveillance and data collection is inane, as is much of the oversharing youths, teens, young adults and some middle-aged persons do...BUT there IS a risk of severe personal consequences: lack of privacy, personal danger, stealing of one’s identity, and hassle with semi-correcting that, and extreme profit to social media companies. Read the Terms of Service! This is why I am not on Facebook nor will I support causes on GoFundMe. Too bad. I also didn’t care for the silly Survey Monkey. God! this is what we revere!? Pick and choose those sites and apps carefully.....
Finally, it is incredible how the extreme narcissism and profit of the plastic surgery family, The Kardashians has become revered and a model for inane bloggers and YouTubers who actually make a lot from “followers” who seem to have a lot of time on their hands. A lot of the content is silly- no, not funny, entertaining or educational but inane to the extent I increasingly fear for the future of American culture and society. Oh, this is the Narcissism and Entitlement and Victim Age.


3 people like this
Posted by Kevin Fanch
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:53 am

There are things we can do to protect our privacy. The best way to protect your privacy is not to share any personal data at first with companies like Google. I am using /e/ (e.foundation) on my Galaxy S9 instead of Google Android. It is Android based mobile OS designed with privacy in mind. Does not send any private data like contacts, emails or location to Google. Instead of Google apps it uses open source android apps. So far it works great. You can check it at Web Link


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