Privacy Issues All Over the Place This Week

    September 12, 2010
    Chris Crum

There has been a lot of discussion about privacy in the news this past week, and surprisingly, not a whole lot of it has had to do with Facebook. Is the Facebook privacy concern fading? Feel free to discuss your concerns with that in the comments

To be fair, there is at least one current story that is related to Facebook privacy, and that is the upcoming release of Diaspora. This has been billed as an open alternative to Facebook, that would protect the privacy of users. There is naturally a great deal of skepticism about the idea that this will be a significant threat to Facebook, but it has managed to generate a fair amount of hype. It’s scheduled to debut next week (Sept. 15). 
Do you think Diaspora has the potential to put a dent in Facebook’s user base? Let us know

One of the biggest stories of the web this past week has been the release of Google Instant, Google’s new feature, which provides search results as you type your query. This has generated a mix of positive and negative reactions, and some have been concerned with privacy issues related to the feature.  

Google uses personal information to deliver you search results, but it has done that for some time. The company maintains that it does nothing different in this regard, when it comes to Google Instant. Still, another issue has been raised, related to this feature. 
Maureen O’Connor at Valleywag writes, "The new Google Instant guesses what you’re searching for while you’re typing, and retrieves results before you finish. It’s the T-9 of search engines. And it means buying an "erector set" will make everyone think you have ‘erectile dysfunction.’"

If you do attempt to search for "erector set" and and pause long enough in the middle of typing to where erectile dysfunction results appear long enough, a SERP for erectile dysfunction can appear in your browser history. I’ve seen it. I’ve actually emailed Google inquiring about this (I suspect it goes by the 3 second rule that the ad impressions do), but I haven’t heard back yet. I will explore this further after I get more info. Update: Google’s response here.

Google updated its privacy policy last week, though the update was more in the language than practice. 
Are you worried about Google Instant from the privacy perspective? Comment here

 This past week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that federal law allows judges the discretion to require that the government obtain a probable cause search warrant before accessing cell phone location data, according to a report from the EFF.

Thoughts on this? Let us know

Also this past week, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s policy allowing border agents to search laptops or other electronic devices at the border without reasonable suspicion.  

"These days, almost everybody carries a cell phone or laptop when traveling, and almost everyone stores information they wouldn’t want to share with government officials – from financial records to love letters to family photos," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. 
Something to say about this subject? Go ahead.

PCWorld reports that e-commerce trade group NetChoice is saying proposals in Congress that would create new rules for sites collecting personal data would "cripple the online advertising and publishing industries." 

The group maintains that one proposal would allow individual Internet users to sue some sites and ad networks if they fail to comply with the legislation’s rules on getting permission for collecting personal data.
Discuss this topic here

Finally, Time reports that sheriffs in North Carolina are looking to be able to access state computer records that identify people  who have prescriptions for painkillers and other drugs. Naturally, this has raised some privacy concerns.  

Should the police be able to access this info? Let us know what you think.