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US concerns about online privacy present opportunity, experts say

Grant Gross | Nov. 13, 2014
Internet companies will move toward offering more privacy-enhancing tools, some privacy advocates say.

The survey, while clearly showing significant public concerns about online privacy, offers a "real upside" for technology companies that can provide users more control over how their data is used, Polonetsky said.

While many people seem pessimistic about the direction of online privacy protections, several large Internet companies are beginning to take steps to give users more control and to provide more transparency about data collection, said Nuala O'Connor, president and CEO of digital rights group the Center for Democracy and Technology.

One of CDT's goals is to develop more tools, both educational and technological, that help people protect their privacy online, she said. The Internet is still in its "early days" of figuring out what acceptable privacy rules and practices are, O'Connor added.

"There's still a huge knowledge gap between the individual citizen and the companies and the government about what the rules are," she said. "But people should not give up hope that we can't solve this; we absolutely can solve it."

The survey was conducted about six months after Snowden began leaking information about the NSA's surveillance programs. But the greater concern over commercial data collection didn't surprise O'Connor.

"People are interacting with the [commercial] online space every single day," she said. "It's probably front of mind the way government surveillance is not. Government surveillance is pretty opaque to the individual citizen."

While Internet users are seeing constant warnings of commercial data breaches, they should also be concerned about government data collection, she added. "Government over-collection of data is a far greater threat to your liberty," O'Connor said. "The ability of the government to deprive you of rights, or put you in jail, or make decisions about you that are life changing ... has far greater consequences than corporate data collection."

 

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