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'Overplayed' privacy concerns rile Symantec boss

'IP addresses are so not private'

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Interview Consumers ought to accept that loss of privacy is the price they pay for using internet service, according to Symantec chief exec John Thompson.

Echoing Scott McNealy's opinion that "you have no privacy, get over it," the Symantec boss expressed surprise that information such as IP addresses is regarded as sensitive.

"Some people think of everything as private, including information such as IP addresses. I don't get that," Thompson told El Reg.

Quizzed about the furore raised when supposedly anonymised search result data was released by AOL and tied back to individuals making searches, Thompson stuck by his guns. "If someone is searching for cancer treatments there is nothing that links that search to the health status of an individual. They could be running the search on behalf of a friend."

Thompson questioned whether there was any likelihood of harm from the release of such information, in contrast to where financial details (for example) are exposed. People need to put privacy concerns in perspective, he contended.

"If you use the net, you are observed. Search results are tracked if you use a public search engine and even if you don't, cookies are placed on your machine to serve up ads by most websites."

Symantec's security products offer the option of deleting tracking cookies. Perhaps Symantec is simply providing customer choice, even to those its chief exec might regard as paranoid.

Thompson's essential argument is that some privacy concerns are overplayed which, he argues, gets in the way of building a more secure internet. He was quite adamant that his views go beyond a simple philosophical difference with the more privacy sensitive who he suggested "live in a cocoon not in the real world."

Symantec's chief exec is not against breach disclosure laws per se but reckons that the loss of encrypted data ought not to be covered by breach disclosure laws so that firms who have protected sensitive data are not affected by the "expense and brand damage" such public notifications bring.

"Businesses have a responsibility to protect sensitive data. The public should not expect the government to protect them," he added.

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