A growing number of technology companies are taking an increasingly brazen attitude toward customer privacy, gathering information on unsuspecting customers — even when customers are not actively using a company’s app or software.
Personal privacy can survive in the digital age. It is more than a quaint notion of a bygone era — it is a fundamental right that remains one of the pillars of our democracy. But it will require vigilance to protect our personal privacy.
This is the new policy from the company where a senior vice president recently floated the idea of spending $1 million to dig up damaging information that would discredit journalists who are critical of the company.
Why would we ever think such a company would misuse our personal information?
Unfortunately, Uber is not alone. An increasing number of tech companies are moving to track us wherever we go.
Moves from Uber and other bad actors in the tech industry help explain why a majority of Americans say they don’t want to lose control of their information, but feel it is simply too late to do anything about it. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania finds that marketers are increasingly misrepresenting themselves to American consumers and “opening them up to exploitation.”
The dramatic growth of mobile technology has tremendous benefits, but also poses some risk. Mobile apps can pinpoint users’ precise geo-location, track their whereabouts over time and share that information with third parties, such as ad networks, data brokers, analytics companies and others.
Location information is highly personal and extremely sensitive. It can reveal where an adult lives, works, shops, socializes and gets medical treatment. It can track where a child goes to school and plays afterward.
Of course, some of the leaders of the tech industry do have serious privacy concerns — for themselves. As a New York Times article explained, it is becoming increasingly common for tech titans to require the people who remodel or work on their lavish homes to sign nondisclosure agreements as they try to keep their personal information out of the public domain.
As the Times put it, “Some people requiring nondisclosure are the very ones who have built an industry on its opposite, the disclosure of personal information.”
Put another way, these newly minted tech titans go out of their way to protect their own data while actively working to undermine privacy protections for everyone else — even kids!
The fact is, some of our most popular technology companies have become the greatest obstacle to protecting the privacy of students and their families.
In recent months, we have seen the tech industry deploying an army of lobbyists around the country to quietly go about weakening and even killing efforts to keep kids’ sensitive information private.
They mobilized to water down commonsense student-privacy protections in Oregon. In California, they’re trying to weaken the landmark Student Online Personal Information Protection Act before it even takes effect in January!
On Capitol Hill, industry is working to thwart a bipartisan coalition in the House led by Reps. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., that has come together to protect children’s privacy. Their landmark legislation would show that Washington is serious about protecting kids’ privacy. It would set sensible baseline rules for K-12 websites, online services and apps providing much-needed safeguards for the privacy and security of students’ personal information in today’s digital world.
Protecting the right to privacy in this era of mobile technology will take increased vigilance on the part of parents, activists and political leaders to stand up to powerful companies that want privacy for themselves but pose a threat to the most sensitive personal information for the rest of us.
[James P. Steyer is the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media which is dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.]
There are many actions consumers can take to protect themselves, starting with writing to the CEOs of companies that are ignoring their concerns about privacy. Contact your legislative and congressional representatives and encourage them to support your and your children’s right to privacy and push back against special interest lobbying. Educate yourself about privacy policies, including at your children’s schools.
Knowledge is power: Get educated about how to protect the privacy of kids
Learn what policymakers are doing to protect your privacy
Hold companies accountable for their actions by getting smart about their privacy policies