Tag Archives: consumer spying

Obama Pushes Consumer Privacy Bill

AP_barack_obama_press_conference_sk_131220_16x9_992President Obama has introduced draft legislation intended to ease the burden on consumers who wish to view or delete personal information that companies collect and keep. The White House announced the release of the draft based on the principles of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights originally released in 2012.

Consumer privacy is another Internet related issue that Obama promised to address in his State of the Union address. The president previously released a fact sheet outlining both this and other proposed changes. President Obama has made significant efforts in addressing national cyber security and other consumer Internet related issues including connectivity and broadband, public private information sharing and data breach notification legislation.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015 addresses the staggering volume of personal data that corporations collect from consumers regularly. This data is the raw material used internally, analyzed by advertisers, or sold to a third-party aggregator as the final product of the information industry. The bill introduced by the president would require corporations to explain how they use this data in “concise and easily understandable” language. The bill also requires options for consumers to review, correct, or delete information.

Data covered by this bill includes names, addresses, social security or passport numbers, fingerprints, or credit card numbers. Excluded information includes “de-anonymized” data that theoretically cannot be traced back to a specific person. Information used to identify a cyber security related problem is also excluded as long as companies make “reasonable efforts” to remove any personally identifiable information. The bill requires companies to be specific about what information is collected, who it will be shared with, when and if it will be destroyed, how it’s kept secure, and how customers can see or remove it.

Data collectors will also be required to take “reasonable steps” to mitigate privacy risks and make these efforts clear to users. The  Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be tasked with establishing rules for privacy reviews. Any company violating the terms of the act is subject to FTC lawsuits, as well as user and states attorney general action. The president’s bill allows exemptions for small businesses, including businesses that process data for 10,000 people a year or less or have no more than five employees.

California’s “Shine the Light” law already makes it possible to find out what information companies have collected. The California law requires companies to reveal what information they’ve sold to third-party marketing companies. Facebook, one of the largest data collectors in the world has already attempted to make their privacy policies more transparent considering the tremendous amount of information it holds.

Center on Privacy and Technology director Alvaro Bedoya at Georgetown’s law school worries that Obama’s bill could actually preempt state laws allowing companies to collect what they want as long as they maintain some level of transparency. Bedoya cites rules in Illinois and Texas that ban companies from collecting biometric information without permission. “This bill would erase those protections without offering any clear replacement.” He added that it “seems to assume a world where all of our data is collected about us, all of the time.”

Bedoya is not alone in his thinking. Nonprofit Consumer Watchdog labeled the bill as “full of loopholes” saying it “envisions a process where industry will dominate in developing codes of conduct.”

The Center for Digital Democracy says it relies too much on companies’ judgment to decide whether information is sensitive and how it should be managed. This limits the FTC’s power.

In a written statement the Center for Digital Democracy said “Although the president’s Privacy Bill of Rights promised transparency and control, it creates a labyrinth-like process that consumers must navigate before they can actually access and correct their own data records held by companies.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology says it “falls short on the privacy protections needed in today’s digital world.”

Bedoya hopes the bill that reaches Congress provides more specific and clear lines of authority, opening the door to meaningful reform. President Obama continues to push on other fronts.  This month he introduced another cybersecurity executive orderAnother attempt to create rules governing breaches like last year’s Sony hack.

Breaking It Down

As a black consumer you need to be aware of the level of data collection that is going on. Because the more corporations know about you the more likely they are to tailor offerings, sales, and information just for black people and that is not always a good thing. Not at all.

But before I get into the dangers of information collection let me explain a simple scary fact to you. Everything you buy is recorded somewhere with your name on it. You sell more information about yourself than you can imagine. What you don’t sell you give away or the major corporation figures out a way to steal it or buy it from someone else. Is this information about you true? Is it accurate and up to date? You don’t know and the information industry won’t let you see it. Major corporations are now collecting every bit of information they can about you. No matter where you are or who you are or what that information is. There is nothing to stop them. President Obama is trying to change that.

Now welcome to the age of digital discrimination. Corporations use the information they collect from black consumers to guide them to choices just for them. Sound familiar? Your information is used to direct you away from homes you can’t buy. That’s called red lining. your information is used to hide jobs you can’t have. Employment discrimination. Your information is used to decide what medical treatment you get and what you pay for prescriptions. Your information is used to determine what price you pay for merchandise and it is not always cheaper. Your information is used to decide what banks you can do business with, what loans you can get and what advertisements you see. Corporations claim its the machines doing it. Do we believe that?

The purpose of the Consumer Bill of Rights is to allow you some control over this information. But it is not going to solve the problem of digital discrimination.  I don’t know what will.

Home Device Spying Law Gathers Dust

You-Are-Under-Surveillance-Sign-K-7664If black people don’t know by now then you need to wake up to this. Your home and mobile devices have been spying on you and delivering the details of your life to marketers, device manufacturers, utilities, insurance companies, possibly your employer and many others.

Currently there is a bill sitting somewhere in Congress that will address the use of spying technology in consumer devices. Sadly however H.R.2356, the “We Are Watching You Act of 2013” has been languishing in legislative purgatory since June of last year. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).  Neither the House nor the Senate has voted on the bill and it doesn’t look like it will happen this year either.

The bill is intended to stop or at least restrict the use of technology by television service providers who wish to monitor customers using cameras or microphones built in to set-top boxes or DVRs. Television service providers want to use this technology in order to analyze viewing behavior and serve up highly targeted advertising. You are probably asking how targeted this advertising can get? If the device detects a couple cuddling on the sofa then maybe the ads will promote romantic vacations, romantic comedy movies or possibly contraceptive products.

The bill addresses the use of home consumer technology devices such as televisions to spy on the consumer. It bans video service operators such as your cable company from watching or listening to you with built in cameras or microphones found on DVRs, set-top TV boxes, and smart televisions without the consumer’s express permission. The bill would also address other devices such as the Microsoft Xbox One which is also used to spy on users. Microsoft has built in to its Xbox special cameras and sensors known as Kinect.

Microsoft Xbox with Kinect

Microsoft Xbox with Kinect

You maybe interested in to know that Facebook is currently spying on you using technology that operates your phone’s microphone to listen to what is happening around you when you post to the website from the phone. In addition smart televisions are spying on users through the built in webcams. So you think you’re watching television when in actuality it is watching you right back.

In 2012 Verizon filed a patent for a monitoring technology  that uses infrared cameras and microphones capable of detecting if subscribers are eating, exercising, reading or sleeping near the monitoring device. Verizon was denied the patent. If Verizon’s subscribers agree to the monitoring the bill would mandate that the company display  a “we are watching you” message on the screen and  reveal what data is being collected. 

“This may sound preposterous but it’s neither a joke nor an exaggeration. These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy.”Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

Capuano believes the recording and analyzing of viewer behavior by television cable providers and networks may threaten individual privacy rights. His legislation allows consumers to opt out of monitoring at any time. In addition television service providers would be required to tell consumers what information is being collected and how it would be used.

Capuano’s bill comes at a time when there is general outrage sparked by the revelations of NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency has collected the telephone records of millions of Americans and accesses the databases of the nation’s biggest Internet companies.

Some privacy experts believe public anger at the NSA and Capuano’s proposal is a clear indicator that the nation is fed up and that the technology is slowly eating away at the right to privacy.

Technology analyst Roger Kay of  Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. said, “Here we are again in this sort of Orwellian moment. The human institutions haven’t had time to catch up with the technology.”

Breaking It Down

My first question is; do black people even care about privacy? I have to answer yes. As much as any American. But are we aware of the incredible advancement in technology that allows corporations to take a seat on the sidelines of our lives and watch us like predatory birds? The answer to that is probably no. If you are reading this then you need to take an inventory of the devices in your home that are spying on you. You need to know what information is being broadcast via your television, game console, thermostat, cell phone and Internet connection. What is happening here is that the corporate world has decided that since there is nothing to say we can’t do it then we will do it. Rep. Capuano sees this. This is a clear failure of any ethical and moral restraint. All black people should be aroused if not outraged. How dare these corporations even consider using the technology they sell us against us. Yes, against us. They are watching everything we do and collecting information for their databases to use in the control of our lives and earnings. Black people are in danger, just as the rest of America is, of being brainwashed into thinking that our privacy is being protected. It is not! We are being fooled into believing that we are acting for our own good by reeling in the government while corporations run wild over our personal privacy. Are we going to remain that stupid? We are clamoring for Congress to do something about the NSA but not about private industry. Why? Are we already brainwashed?