The FTC's "Watershed Moment In Privacy" - Don't Let Your Privacy Wash Away

Jan 26, 2010
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be in California for the second of its "Exploring Privacy" roundtables. The ACLU will be there sounding the alarm about privacy implications of social networking and cloud computing services. (Check back here for blog posts drilling down into each of these services, with specific recommendations for how the FTC can improve privacy in these areas.) We want to make sure the FTC knows that the time is now to address growing online privacy issues.

The FTC wants –and needs–to hear from you too. Join us in sending the message loud and clear to companies and lawmakers that you demand the right to know what is happening to your personal information. Sign the ACLU of Northern California's petition today!

A "Watershed Moment in Privacy"

At the first privacy roundtable, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that we are at a "watershed moment in privacy" requiring the FTC to broadly examine consumer privacy issues. That's great to hear, because that's what the ACLU of Northern California's Demand your dotRights campaign is all about: exploring and understanding the privacy implications of technology and demanding a privacy upgrade so that consumer protections catch up to our modern online world.

While innovation has been on the fast-track for the past twenty years, privacy protections have been stuck in a holding pattern. The federal law that's supposed to be safeguarding electronic communications was written in 1986–way before the Internet as we know it today even existed. That makes our personal information vulnerable. Companies are collecting the vast amounts of information we put online–but once it is collected, we don't know where it ends up. Is it being sold, shared, or turned over to the government and other third parties with little to no judicial oversight?

We honestly don't even know how bad the problem really is because those email providers, search engines, location services, and favorite video sites that collect information about us won't tell how often they turn information over to third parties. Sprint was recently outed after announcing that it received and complied with 8 million requests for customer information in just 13 months. Google has refused to tell the public how often customer information is turned over. Yahoo argued that even the public release of its disclosure policies(not the actual numbers) might shock its customers and shame the company.

Demand Control of Your Personal Information

It's not right that companies hand over your personal information and don't even tell you about it. The FTC and lawmakers need to do something about it.

In our written comments to the FTC in advance of this privacy roundtable, we urged the agency to require that companies come clean with the public and to support the creation of an annual record of all information requests and disclosure rates to third parties and the government. This is not a new or controversial idea: the number of wiretaps requested and ordered is already made public in an annual report. The report suggested here would merely expand public knowledge so that we would know about requests for information collected by online companies too. And it's long overdue.

We are also attending Thursday's roundtable to make our case in person. This roundtable will be focused on the privacy issues related to social networking, cloud computing, and mobile location services–three of the areas that the dotRights campaign has been focused on for the past year.

Please join us in telling the FTC and companies that you demand to know what happens to your personal information!

  • Sign our petition to tell the FTC and others that knowing what happens to your personal information is a necessary first step.
  • Attend the privacy roundtable on Thursday – in person or via webcast. (Here's the agenda of discussions.)
  • Submit your own comment to the FTC by following these instructions and posting your comments here.

It's time to demand control of your personal information.

It's time to demand a privacy upgrade.

It's time to Demand Your dotRights!