Senator Al Franken Blasts Google And Facebook on Privacy


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Senator Al Franken, in a speech to the American Bar Association's Antitrust Section, railed against Facebook, Google, and cell phone carriers for the massive amount of information they keep on users.

"What we’re seeing is that, just like Americans’ pocketbooks and access to information, their right to privacy can be a casualty of anti-competitive practices," said Franken.

Franken pointed to Google's recent privacy policy changes as an example of the growing consolidation of user's information. Never mind that the Google privacy policy update was mostly a clarification. Franken does, to his credit, allow that ads tailored to users isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, he then goes on to twist it into an antitrust issue:

"If you don't want your search results shared with other Google sites - if you don't want some kind of super-profile being created for you based on everything you search, every site you surf, and every video you watch on YouTube - you will have to find a search engine that's comparable to Google. Not easy...

"...When a company is able to establish a dominant market position, consumers lose meaningful choices. You might not like that Facebook shares your political opinions with Politico, but are you really going to delete all the photos, all the posts, all the connections - the presence you've spent years establishing on the world's dominant social network?"

In the past 20 years, the same could have said the same about AOL or Yahoo! Just because Google and Facebook are dominant doesn't mean that users aren't fickle, and these companies are constantly forced to look at how they affect user's privacy.

Franken correctly points out that users' information is the product being sold by many internet companies. And it is true that Facebook and Google are masters at gathering ever-more data on users, without having to worry too much about the competition right now. But, besides insurance ramifications, what exactly is dangerous about advertising companies knowing everything about us? Franken talks a lot about how more market pressure on Google and Facebook would make everyone "feel a lot more comfortable," but I think the internet may be shifting the default assumption from 'everything private until revealed' to 'everything public unless hidden'.

So what do you think of Senator Franken's warning? Is he at the vanguard of online consumer protection? Or does he not 'get' internet culture? Let me know in the comments below.