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.
2. A new study has found that seemingly innocent disclosures on Facebook can be used to form highly accurate predictions about whether you are a genius, drug user or gay.
3. If you use certain porta-potties at the Austin, Texas, tech confab South By Southwest, passersby know if you are … standing or sitting inside, and for how long.
Is all of that what we signed up for?
Privacy is a huge issue — too huge for a single, brief column. But I’m going to make a prediction. I don’t know when or how it will happen, but before too long there will be a jarring, transformational event that will cause us to question our online behavior. Some horrendous breach of privacy, well within the parameters of some service’s Terms of Service, will spark mainstream outrage and cause companies to scramble with damage control.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We’ve had plenty of warning. Facebook’s business model is entirely based on members expressing preferences on just about everything – it was in part the volume of information that allowed the researchers to find the correlations I mentioned earlier. Google’s business model is arguably less invasive but is also based on the relinquishment of online privacy to one degree or another.