Mercator Perspectives

Privacy at the New Year: Are We Coming Or Going?

News in mid-December on two different fronts illustrated the deep gulf that separates privacy advocates from compulsive data gatherers. On the one hand, the Federal Trade Commission has taken a small step forward in requesting that some major United States firms answer questions about their data-collection practices. On the other hand, consumers are facing yet another unilateral data grab, in the form of a new “What’s Yours Is Ours”policy from Instagram, the popular photosharing site.

Here is what the FTC says about its upcoming study:

The nine data brokers receiving orders from the FTC are: 1) Acxiom, 2) Corelogic, 3) Datalogix, 4) eBureau, 5) ID Analytics, 6) Intelius, 7) Peekyou, 8) Rapleaf, and 9) Recorded Future. The FTC is seeking details about:
  • the nature and sources of the consumer information the data brokers collect;
  • how they use, maintain, and disseminate the information; and 
  • the extent to which the data brokers allow consumers to access and correct their information or to opt out of having their personal information sold. 

Among the FTC’s major concerns – that these firms are not household names, and most are relatively unknown to consumers who thus do not understand what information about them is being collected or sold. Reports in a specified format are due back to the FTC in February 2013, raising hopes that the agency might take some action in 2013.

Should the FTC have looked at photo gatherers as well as data gatherers? The photosharing service Instagram was acquired by Facebook in April, 2012, for a price estimated at around $1 billion in cash and Facebook stock. In mid-December, Instagram announced a major change in its terms of use, advising that as of mid-January 2013, Instagram, not the photographers, will own all rights to all photos in customer accounts on the site. Instagram can sell the photos for use in advertising, as well as analyze the content of photos. As of now, the only way to prevent Instagram from claiming your photos is to delete your Instagram account, with all its content, before the effective date in January.

Consumers and site users have ignited a controversy over the announced change. News site C/Net reported:

Reginald Braithwaite, an author and software developer, posted a tongue-in-cheek "translation" of the new Instagram policy today: "You are not our customers, you are the cattle we drive to market and auction off to the highest bidder. Enjoy your feed and keep producing the milk."

One Instagram user dubbed the policy change "Instagram's suicide note."

Is Facebook killing the goose that lays the photo egg? Only time will tell. There are certainly alternative solutions available to consumers, not the least of which is Yahoo’s Flickr. The real questions are – do consumers understand, and if so, do they care? How much do they value their privacy? If consumers can’t get excited about behind the scenes gathering and aggregating of data, will they get excited about photos? Will consumers care if the next ad campaign for their favorite resort or vacation destination features unauthorized photos of themselves and their children at play, courtesy of Instagram data sales?

What is your current view on the potential for invasion of your personal privacy?
__Not worried
__Growing concerned
__Already worried

Let us know which description fits you. 

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