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Some People Sharing Information = No Right to Privacy

June 30th, 2011

In February of this year, Congress introduced new legislation (PDFs here and here) which would allow Internet users to opt out of being tracked by online entities. This usually takes the form of the infamous browser cookies; while you have the ability to view them in your browser, there are typically so many of them that it would be far too cumbersome to sift through the list; deleting them all would mean losing the few which are truly useful, remembering passwords and other key data on sites where you want them to be remembered. What’s more, some cookies are even inaccessible, such as Flash cookies, making it difficult to know who is tracking you and what data they are collecting, even if you could waste the time to track it anyway. The end result is, most people give up and allow themselves, either reluctantly or unknowingly, to be tracked.

The new legislation would prohibit that, requiring an easy online mechanism to opt out of such tracking. The major browsers have included features allowing users to block such tracking, though it falls short of the legislation.

Predictably, business groups hate the legislation; if they can’t track your private information, how can they spam you efficiently enough to offer free crap?

Some Republicans, like Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, are predictably taking industry’s side over that of consumers, claiming that such a mechanism would “break the Internet.” But the justification of invading people’s privacy is the real prize-taker:

“In a world where millions of people voluntarily share very personal information on websites like Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis, I’m not sure exactly what consumer expectations are when it comes to privacy, but I am pretty sure different consumers have different expectations.”

So, because some people choose to share personal information on social networking sites, no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. That smacks of the mindset which justifies rape if a woman dresses provocatively. Even if everyone shared personal information in such forums, it would not justify the invasion of their privacy in forms they do not approve of. Stalkers cannot justify their actions by saying their victims talked about private details in a coffee shop in a voice loud enough for others to overhear.

Not to mention that Toomey’s point about “different expectations of privacy” is exactly why we should have such an opt-out–so we can be sure that consumer expectations are being met. Suggesting that no one should have privacy because some people might not want it is, frankly, idiotic.

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