To Protect Privacy, Take It Personally

Winnipeg Free Press, January 25, 2014 | Go to article overview
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To Protect Privacy, Take It Personally

The United Nations has adopted a resolution naming online privacy a universal human right. In a text called Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, the UN General Assembly affirmed for the first time ever in late 2013 that all the privacy rights people have offline should also be protected online.

How nice of the UN to declare online privacy a fundamental right each of us is entitled to simply because we're human. It's too bad this doesn't mean a whole lot.

The resolution, like most UN resolutions and findings, has no teeth. It's non-binding which means any nation can choose whether or not it abides with the resolution.

Online privacy and government digital spying have become hot topics since National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed NSA's secret mass electronic surveillance inside and outside the U.S. It could be said that Snowden's disclosures are the main reason for the UN's sudden strong interest in online privacy.

But online privacy has been a contentious issue long before these revelations, especially between corporations and consumers. Companies use the wealth of personal information shared online through web searches, social media posts, digital media comments, chat boards, and sometimes even private emails, for financial gain. And Internet users who know this is happening aren't happy.

Social media giant Facebook has faced several privacy-related lawsuits since it was founded in 2004. The networking service is currently facing two new lawsuits alleging it not only scans links in private messages for targeted advertising, but also uses users' profiles to have them Like (the thumbs-up acknowledgement for posts, comments, and pages) a publication or product they've never endorsed.

Microsoft and Intel have been accused of tracking customers across the Internet. LinkedIn, Yahoo! and Google have faced accusations they've intercepted communications.

Last summer, a lawsuit accused Google of scanning Gmail's incoming and outgoing email messages to target users for advertising. In its motion to dismiss, Google said the plaintiffs were trying "to criminalize ordinary business practices that have been part of Google's free Gmail service since it was introduced nearly a decade ago," and that "all users give implied consent to the automated processing of their emails."

On Jan. 15, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada made public an investigation that found Google violated Canadian privacy law through targeted online advertising.

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To Protect Privacy, Take It Personally


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