Three privacy stories caught my attention in the past week:
1. Google is paying a token $7 million fine for sniffing out private information as its roving Google Maps cars gathered images for Street View.
Instagram surely didn’t expect to stir up a hornet’s nest with changes to its terms of service announced two days ago. But it was met with an Internet flash mob: high-profile tech writers who had adored the service abandoning it and thousands of angry words from the rest of us about what Instagram’s pictures are really worth.
Facebook wasted no time acting with impunity by (once again) diluting member privacy protections this week. But it needn’t have hurried. Any semblance of democracy was washed away at noon Pacific Time Tuesday, when a vote to have votes on policy changes went down in flames. It solidified the world’s largest social network’s rule by fiat. This may be good for business now, but in the long-run it could backfire.
Instagram, the mobile photo sharing app that Facebook bought for about $700 million, has been doing something new over the past few weeks. Up until now, one couldn’t see all of a user’s Instagrams online, the way you could, say, see all of a Twitter users’ tweets. But in recent weeks, users’ collections have been uploaded to the Internet automatically (see my profile page as an example). Instagram never bothered to ask for permission. Don’t want people to be able to easily access all your pictures from your Web browser? Too bad.
Mine and Yinka Adegoke’s story today on Intel’s proposal to use facial-recognition technology with a virtual TV service and set-top box has raised legitimate concerns about allowing Big Brother into consumers’ living rooms.
With about 900 million people, Facebook is larger than all but two countries in the world. But the nation of Facebook’s experiment with direct democracy may be coming to an end after only a few years.
Google landed in hot water over revelations that the search giant and ad companies had bypassed the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple’s Safari Web browser, using special computer code that tracked their movements online. Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered the code. Subsequently, a technical adviser to the Wall Street Journal found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser. Google disabled the code after being contacted by the Journal, the newspaper said, and Google issued a statement, saying: “The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”
Apple tweaked its policy on permission iOS apps need to access the contact information of users after legislators sought more information from the company regarding its privacy policies.