Feeds

Facebook's critics 'unrealistic', says US privacy law expert

Demands 'commercially impossible' to enact

Security for virtualized datacentres

The expectations and demands of privacy activists are unrealistic and uncommercial, according to one of America's top privacy law academics. Lobbyists for privacy rights should be more pragmatic and cooperate with companies, he said.

Privacy advocates this week wrote to social networking giant Facebook in the latest of a long line of criticisms of its privacy policies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU of Northern California, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) complained in an open letter (pdf) to the company that it did not do enough to protect the personal information people post to the site.

Such demands will never be successful, though, because they run so counter to the business interests of companies, Chris Jay Hoofnagle told podcast OUT-LAW Radio. Hoofnagle was speaking before that letter was made public.

Hoofnagle is director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology's information privacy programs and senior fellow to the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.

"The privacy advocates have been less than pragmatic on these issues and they're calling for interventions that I don't think will protect privacy," he said, speaking of criticisms expressed by various organisations in recent months. "[They also] might be commercially impossible to put into play."

The privacy groups this week urged Facebook to make many of its features opt-in only, so that users had to actively choose them.

"The answer can't be opt in," said Hoofnagle. "Let's say [US consumer regulator] the Federal Trade Commission says we're going to create this opt in rule, companies will simply require people to opt in to see any content."

Hoofnagle has published widely on privacy law and the internet. He told OUT-LAW Radio that the very basis of the action of many privacy advocates is wrong, and that he backs a very simple solution to the privacy problem.

"If I could do anything now I would simply create a ceiling on how long advertising data would be kept, something like three months," he said. "It would cause advertisers to have to compete under that ceiling, whoever could do the best targeting with just three months of data.

"It would eliminate the civil liberties concerns because companies would have to erase the click-stream after a short amount of time. And the other benefit is that it wouldn't require the consumers to do anything," he said.

User data is valuable to website publishers such as Facebook because it allows them to sell more expensive advertising space to companies which will use the gathered data to try to match adverts to users based on their activity and supposed demographic profile.

But Hoofnagle said that advertisers had told regulators in the US that they did not need lots of historic data to make online advertising work.

"The FTC received a lot of testimony in recent years … and behavioural advertisers came forth and said that the most accurate data is the live data, it's the thing you're doing now," he said. "That really indicates your what your purchasing intent is. Historical data isn't as useful.

"A number of advertisers … said that any data that was older than a month was worthless for targetting," he said.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Scrapping the Human Rights Act: What about privacy and freedom of expression?
Justice minister's attack to destroy ability to challenge state
WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?
Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here
Hey Brit taxpayers. You just spent £4m on Central London ‘innovation playground’
Catapult me a Mojito, I feel an Digital Innovation coming on
Google hits back at 'Dear Rupert' over search dominance claims
Choc Factory sniffs: 'We're not pirate-lovers - also, you publish The Sun'
EU to accuse Ireland of giving Apple an overly peachy tax deal – report
Probe expected to say single-digit rate was unlawful
Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'
There's morality and then there's economics ...
While you queued for an iPhone 6, Apple's Cook sold shares worth $35m
Right before the stock took a 3.8% dive amid bent and broken mobe drama
EU probes Google’s Android omerta again: Talk now, or else
Spill those Android secrets, or we’ll fine you
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.