Monday, April 2, 2012

Should consumer privacy be a regulated issue?

Feels like the recent criticism of Google's unified privacy policy is a misplaced focus. The controversy centers on company, while it should focus on practice. There are three new problems with large media companies:

Ecosystems are too big to ignore

Commercial ecosystems on internet become big and unavoidable by definition of their success. It is important, as there are more and more professions, whose professional success requires participation in certain ecosystems. In my mind, LinkedIn and Facebook are front runners in by that criteria. Making people aware of privacy policies and turning them away if they do not agree is a strong-arming policy which serves only the ecosystem operator entity, but not participant people or society at large. It is a pretend choice, not a real one.
An example is LinkedIn for some types of businesses. Can a technology recruiter survive these days without a LinkedIn contract? I do not think so.

Sender forces you to subscribe for a policy

People often operate as guests of ecosystems. They may have financial or personal needs to attend to content offered by ecosystem participants. There are other drivers which deprive visitors of real choice.

All or nothing approach - especially in hidden contracts

When an application offers a user to accept it's privacy policy, there are privacy-related functions which the usen has to take or leave as a package. Even though a privacy setting may affect a specific function, not the whole application, the user will need to abandon the application.
In the matter of fact, Google shows an example of an opposite - one can browse Google Maps on Android with or without GPS turned on.
This is especially a problem, when one buys a phone at a carrier shop, which is broadly advertised having an application ecosystem and specific applications in it.
A user, who buys into the contract after they liked the advertised application set, is unpleasantly surprised with the terms and conditions (in addition to the privacy policy) of, for example, Google Play. Talk about feeling strong-armed.

So, if all this coercion by companies is so prominent and still is unchecked at large, is it time to ask for regulation?

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