Threat to online privacy starts with the way the Internet makes money

There’s something quaint about the ruling last week from an appeals court in Indiana concerning an anonymous comment posted on The Indianapolis Star’s website. The 2009 posting suggested a local notable had embezzled money from a troubled project, and he wanted to sue for defamation.

Trouble is, he didn’t know whom to sue because the author of the posting used a make-believe name. The newspaper wouldn’t help because it believed the writer deserved protection as a confidential news source. The court ruled, essentially, that if presented with compelling evidence that the posting was false and damaging, the trial court could order the author identified.

It’s not the wisdom of decision that interests me. It’s the way that courts, when they address the nettlesome question of Internet privacy, do so with care, transparency, and precision.

That’s what is so quaint. Because those same values have almost no role in the way the big, sweeping contours of Internet privacy are taking shape in the new millennium.

Instead, they’re emerging from a corporate-government kabuki that is as transparent as the online Terms of Service Agreements we users thoughtlessly sign: Giant Internet companies introduce glittering services that lubricate the invisible process of appropriating and sharing information about their customers; then, once outraged users get wise to what’s happening, the companies launch new measures to protect privacy; next, those safeguards are exposed as ineffectual, the government gets annoyed, the Internet companies circle back and try again, settlements are reached, checks are written.

And the corporate search goes on, unstoppably, for clever new ways to flush out, capture and make money from user data. Continue reading “Threat to online privacy starts with the way the Internet makes money”