Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Your personal privacy in the digital and mobile worlds.

The privacy of your personal information is very important. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches by government officials. It does nothing to protect individuals from unreasonable searches by private persons or entities.

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is the federal agency overseeing consumer protection in the United States. This includes protection as it relates to privacy and personal information.

In general, the FTC does not regulate what of your personal information is accessible through the Internet via computers and mobile devices. Instead, the FTC enforces company privacy policies to ensure that customers are getting accurate information from those companies. The FTC also requires that businesses safeguard private customer information from unauthorized access. But if you give companies access to your personal information, they pretty much have carte blanche to take whatever information they want. The only proviso is that they must accurately disclose what information they are taking.

In the past two years alone, companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google have been slapped by the FTC over privacy or data security issues. Even though these likely affected you, you may not even have heard about them.

These are not the only companies to be hit with charges from the FTC over privacy or data security. These are just a few of the most prominent ones. Most people in the United States use any or all of Google, Facebook or Twitter. So you were likely affected by their privacy policies, and continue to be affected by them.

The FTC website has good background information on mobile apps. If you allow an app to access your personal information when signing up for an app, they may be able to access: (1) your phone and email contacts; (2) call logs; (3) Internet data; (4) calendar data; (5) location data; (6) the device’s unique IDs; and/or (7) information about how you use the app itself. Earlier this year, the FTC issued “best practices” for mobile app developers. Posterity will show whether mobile app developers will follow these guidelines.

Given how much we use the Internet and mobile devices, it is important that you are aware of just how vulnerable your private information is. The FTC advises people to think of personal information as having monetary value. In other words, even free apps are paid for, because you exchange your personal information to use the app. The app developers use this information for advertising and other purposes. Your personal information is valuable in the hands of app developers and businesses. They consider your personal information a commodity to be bought and sold, so you should treat it the same way.

No comments:

Post a Comment