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Social networks have empowered us and connected us to people around the world. In the last year, they have even been credited with fostering democracies. But they have also eroded our personal privacy and made us more vulnerable. Data aggregator services use our on line activity to compile an astonishing amount of information on us and sell it to others. Potential employers and colleges judge candidates in part by their social network pages. The law has not yet caught up with the technology. Diane and her guests discuss protecting our privacy in the digital age.
- Marc Rotenberg executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and teaches Information Privacy Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
- Lori Andrews law professor and the director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at Illinois Institute of Technology, author of "I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy."
- Jeff Jarvis associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, blogs at Buzzmachine.com, and author of “Public Parts: How Sharing In The Digital Age Improves The Way We Work And Live.”
Millions are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks posting pictures and details of life, but it’s not just friends who read all this. How we use social networks can have a major impact on our lives and, indeed, our future. Our guests explore how much information we may be sharing – both intentionally and unintentionally – and how it may affect our employment prospects, personal relationships, and more.
Privacy A Top Concern Of Users
Privacy is the issue that constantly comes up in policy discussions, Marc Rotenberg said. In his view, we should be able to use social networks with some confidence our privacy will be protected. “So the question is what type of updates to the law do we need to make so that people can use the services with the expectation that their privacy will be respected?” Rotenberg said. Lori Andrews pointed out that although each individual has a choice about how much or how little to post on social networks, many people have no idea about how their images, in particular, might be used. “Thirty-five percent of employers say they refuse to hire people if they have a Facebook photo with a drink in their hand or provocative dress. So you can think about, you know, you might be at a wedding, you might be wearing some low-cut thing and you, as a woman, may be then denied a job because of that,” Andrews said.
How The Law Is Keeping Up With Concerns
Rotenberg said one of the ongoing problems is the fact that companies keep changing privacy policies and users may not be fully aware of the changes. “You can’t say to your users, once they’ve expressed a privacy preference, that you will then go in and change it,” he said. Rotenberg said that with Facebook in particular, the new “Timeline” feature seems to take control away from the user about which information is being made publicly available. Andrews pointed out that though some changes might seem harmless, there may be unintended and serious consequences. For
instance, when Facebook made people’s friend lists public, some Iranians who had family members studying in the U.S. that could be picked out from Facebook posts on their own pages were arrested by Iranian authorities, Andrews said.
The Benefits Of Sharing
On the positive side, Jeff Jarvis points out some of the reasons many people love social networking. “We can share with each other, find each other, create publics, create movements like Occupy Wall Street. We have power we never had,” Jarvis said. He believes there are many benefits to more people sharing more information – about health, social activism, and more. Andrews countered Jarvis’s arguments with her own concerns that social networks are “narrowing” our behaviors and that pieces of information on social networking sites that we may not even realize could be harmful to us could be used in ways we’ve never anticipated. Jarvis argued that it’s not the information-sharing itself that’s the problem – it’s how the information is used. But Andrews said that is precisely her point – we can’t control how many different people or entities will use our information, so it’s essential to protect that information from the start.
“Removing” Information From The Internet
One caller asked about how easy or difficult it would be to remove some of her personal information from the Internet. “The short answer is that it’s very difficult for an individual to remove information,” Rotenberg said. “On the other hand it’s not so difficult to regulate the practice of companies that collect and sell information about individuals,” he said.
You can read the full transcript here
MR. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Millions are on Facebook or MySpace posting pictures and details of life, but it's not just friends who read all this. How we use social networks can have a major impact on our lives and, indeed, our future.
MR. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the risks and what can be done to protect our privacy, Lori Andrews of the Illinois Institute of Technology and author of a brand new book just being published today. It's titled "I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did." The subtitle of the book is "Social Networks and the Death of Privacy."
MR. DIANE REHMAlso here in the studio Marc Rotenberg. He's executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and, of course, this subject is very much about all of us so I hope you will join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to both of you.
MS. LORI ANDREWSGood morning.
MR. MARC ROTENBERGGood morning.
REHMLori Andrews, you open with something that's really rather stunning, a meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron, shortly after coming to power, with Mark Zuckerberg. Talk about that meeting.
ANDREWSYes, amazingly, Mark Zuckerberg could be thought about as another head of state. He is on top of Facebook, which has 750,000 million members which makes it the third largest nation in the world after China and India. And so the prime minister was asking his advice about how Facebook could be used to set policies for the country. And in fact, the prime minister was saying that Mark Zuckerberg's ideas about getting the word out to individuals were brilliant.
ANDREWSBut fast forward to, you know, slightly later when there were riots in Great Britain and people were using Facebook and Blackberry Messenger and Twitter to talk about the best places to loot. And the prime minister, at that point, said, hey, we've got to clamp down on this Facebook thing. And I think that just shows how complex this area is, that Facebook has the power of a nation, but really doesn't have any guiding rules to protect its citizens.
REHMAs you look at the growth of Facebook and MySpace and all of that, Marc Rotenberg, how concerned are you about our privacy?
ROTENBERGWell, I think privacy is the top concern of most people who use these services. It's the issue that constantly comes up in the policy discussions. It's an issue that people talk about online. But I don't think that we should simply be concerned, I think we should be able to use the service with some confidence that privacy will be protected. So the question is what type of updates to the law do we need to make so that people can use the services with the expectation that their privacy will be respected?
REHMAt the same time, you have to say nobody is forced to go on to Facebook or any of these other sites.
ROTENBERGWell, that's absolutely true. But you also have to recognize the company has said to people, if you go on these sites, you will be able to control the information that you post. The companies put out privacy settings. They have privacy policies and people rely on those policies. We think this is very important, actually critical. Some people might choose to post a lot, other people might choose to post very little, but whatever choice a user makes, Facebook should respect.
REHMAnd Lori Andrews what -- in what ways do the social networks use the information they glean, perhaps even against us?
ANDREWSWell I think one of the things is, yes, people should be able to go on social networks and make choices, but they have no idea the purposes for which their pictures of them engaging in legal behavior will be put. Thirty-five percent of employers say they refuse to hire people if they have a Facebook photo with a drink in their hand or provocative dress. So you can think about, you know, you might be at a wedding, you might be wearing some low-cut thing and you, as a woman, may be then denied a job because of that.
ANDREWSA woman lost custody of her child purely based on a Facebook photo that showed her wearing something sexy. You have one in five college admissions officers looking at Facebook pages now. And so you may think what you're posting is just going to family members, but it sometimes is used more broadly and I think that it's particularly a problem for younger, poorer people. There now are police departments and courts that will enhance a kid's sentence, give them extra time in jail if they're wearing gang colors or will prosecute them as a gang member based on a Facebook photo.
ANDREWSSo I looked at the Los Angeles Police Department's assessment of what's a gang color. Well, plaid, think of any hipster, you know, all black, well anybody who goes to a New York art opening or Diane herself today, and you're not going to be thrown in jail as a gang member. But some poor kid who can't afford a good lawyer, based on wearing all black on his Facebook page. And so that's not something that you can sweep away by saying, well, you knew, you know, in posting a photo you were wearing all black. Who knows that that's going to trigger a gang investigation?
REHMSo what I gather, Marc, that what you're saying is we need the law to make sure that our privacy is protected and yet, as Lori points out, our private -- we think our private images are certainly being used so the law is not moving as fast as we need to.
ROTENBERGWell, we have made some progress. For example, a couple of years ago, my organization EPIC and several other consumer and civil liberties groups went to the Federal Trade Commission and we said, you know, Facebook has changed the privacy settings of its users. Users who wanted to limit who had access to those photos in Lori's example, found that Facebook had said, well, maybe we should make those available to others and if you, the user, are unhappy with that, you can change your privacy setting back to the way you had it originally.
ROTENBERGAnd we said, that's simply unfair. You can't say to your users, to your customers, once they've expressed a privacy preference, that you will then go in and change it. Now, the Federal Trade Commission pursued a two-year investigation and in late November, they essentially agreed with us. They said that what Facebook had done was unfair and they said that going forward, Facebook should not make those kinds of changes and they also said some other things, unless they had real consent, meaningful consent, opted-in consent.
ROTENBERGSo we think the decision by the Federal Trade Commission was very important. Of course, we'd like them to go further. We think they should have restored the privacy settings that users had themselves selected originally, not start where they are now. And then we were very surprised with the news about Timeline, which is the new display of Facebook user information, which, once again, seems to take away from the user that control over which of their information is being made publicly available.
ANDREWSI think one of the most compelling things in Marc's and EPIC's complaint about these changes in Facebook's policies was the fact that something that might seem innocuous, people's friends used to be private, and then the friends became public and I think some of the great evidence that Marc brought to this were the problems that caused.
ANDREWSSo people in the United States who had friends in Iran and who were protesting things going on in Iran, all of a sudden, their friends and family members became public. And in Tehran, you know, family members of people studying in America, for example, were beat up, were arrested based on the fact that they now could be picked out based on these Facebook posts.
ANDREWSSomething that totally shocked me, the most shocking thing you can do in this book has nothing really to do with the social networks' own policies, but with data aggregators, groups that collect information about you on the web. And they do it without your permission or consent so there is currently litigation that is about to settle in California against a company, NebuAd.
ANDREWSIt made a deal with a bunch of internet service providers to put hardware on the internet services providers' equipment and collect every single thing the user sent, every email, every Skype call, every website they went on and so forth because that is a goldmine to sell to marketing companies.
ANDREWSSo if I emailed privately my sister and said, you know, I have a rash or I have this medical problem or I'm thinking of using in vitro, all of a sudden, that became a marketable commodity. And so an employer might say, well, we don't want to employ her because if she undergoes in vitro fertilization, it's going to cost us. So in the litigation so far against various companies that have put cookies on your computer, web beacons, have used bots to collect your information of every single place you went on the web, consumers have lost and so far federal courts have said the wiretap and other computer fraud statutes don't protect you because it's okay if one party gives consent.
ANDREWSSo if the website you go to or the internet service provider you go to said it was okay, they can collect your personal information without your consent. I think that's something that needs to be changed so that personal information can't be used without your express consent.
REHMNot even with your consent, but not even with your knowledge...
ANDREWSYeah, not with -- and so you've got companies...
REHM...that this is collected.
ANDREWS...that have 1500 pieces of information on 96 percent of Americans, one company brags about that and they say, we're the biggest company you've never heard of and they include things like what your prescription drugs are and then they sell that to marketing companies. So I think that's a shocking aspect of it that we haven't seen sufficiently addressed.
REHMAnd do you believe the law is going to move quickly enough to catch up?
ROTENBERGWell, I think it needs to, Diane. I mean, it is always the case that technology comes along, business changes practices. There are new privacy issues. And eventually we do update the law and it takes time, but I think it is so clear in this area where people have so little understanding of how their data is being collected that we need to act.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, he's executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He teaches information privacy law at the Georgetown University Law Center.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd as we talk about the digital age and personal privacy, joining us now is Jeff Jarvis of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He's author of "Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live." Jeff Jarvis, thanks for joining us.
MR. JEFF JARVISThank you, Diane.
REHMDo you see social networks as a risk to privacy?
JARVISI'm afraid that's the way the question is too often put. You know, privacy's very important and it has many able protectors like Marc. But I think we have to look at what people are really doing there. Eight-hundred-million people are on Facebook not because they're drunk or stupid but because they see a benefit in sharing. This is the incredible thing that the internet, as a tool of public-ness gives us all. We can share with each other, find each other, create publics, create movements like Occupy Wall Street. We have power we never had.
JARVISAnd so my concern is that if all we do is talk about the things that could go wrong from technology changing life than we won't build the things that can go right. And so I also want the conversation to be about the benefits of public-ness that come from these magnificent new tools. And people are using it for very good reasons. And...
REHMOkay. Jeff, I know you've been listening since the top of the program. You heard Lori Andrews talk about the fact that you've got some college admissions people looking at Facebook postings. You've got potential employers doing the same thing and hiring or not hiring on that basis. What do you make of that?
JARVISThe problem there is not the technology. The problem in these cases is the use of data and that is a case where regulation comes in. In Finland, employers aren't allowed to search for you on Google. I don't know that I would go that far because you, I think, have a right to know what someone is. If someone gets fired because -- or they lose their child because they look punkish, the problem there is the idiot judge who did that. It's not the technology to let someone be themselves.
JARVISThe databases that are drawn on you, I know from having worked in the magazine industry, I started Entertainment Weekly, that we sold lists of who read our magazine. And there are databases that were built far before the internet, that have far more functional...
JARVIS...data than the internet ever has. Does that need...
REHMWell, on the...
JARVIS...regulation? Sure. (unintelligible) .
REHMOn the other hand, I certainly wouldn't want someone outside my provider to have access to my personal information, for example, my social security number, my credit card numbers, my prescriptions, that sort of thing.
JARVISWell, sure, Diane. And there are laws about that. There are laws that prevent fraud and identity theft. But I talked about my prostate cancer and thus my malfunctioning penis for the whole world to see on my blog. By being public in that way, I got incredible value back, information and supports that I never would've gotten otherwise. And if more of us were open about these things and were able to because we didn't see the stigmas in society about being sick, and if laws prevented insurers and employers from discriminating against us, then openness could give us incredible value in research and data and correlation on health...
REHMWell, I'm certainly glad you got the support you needed through your postings, but not everybody would be quite as comfortable. Marc, I know you wanted to say something.
ROTENBERGWell, I think Jeff is actually making several important points and it's helpful in this discussion to try to separate out where we agree and where there may be disagreement. I mean, I certainly agree with him that it's a fantastic technology and to talk about regulating the internet, for example, is probably a mistake. What we really need to talk about is the regulation of the use of the data by companies and by government agencies and by others. So...
JARVISWe do agree there, Marc, yes.
ROTENBERGYeah, so I think that point is absolutely right. And I think, you know, Jeff made a decision to publicize something that many people would consider private, but that's his decision. And...
REHMHis personal decision, of course.
ROTENBERG...and if he wishes to make that decision, more power to him. I don't think anyone should tell Jeff that he can't express whatever views he wishes to express.
ROTENBERGI think the hard problems we need to talk about are those situations where people who do have an expectation of privacy find themselves increasingly frustrated by the practices of companies like Facebook. And by companies that they don't even have any direct contact with and don't have any meaningful way to respond. And they're basically told, hey, you know, we don't have any privacy anymore. Get used to it. Or you're using the internet, what did you expect? And I think both of those answers are really non-answers.
ANDREWSYeah, I think that Jeff's approach underestimates the extent to which people find privacy important. Sixty-five percent of people do use privacy settings. And shockingly, unlike Mark Zuckerberg's idea that we're all going to get used to no privacy, it's younger people have an even higher percentage of concerns about privacy.
ANDREWSI'd hate to have someone sort of follow Jeff's model who isn't as noted or wealthy as well protected as he is because if another person puts up their prostate cancer experience -- someone with prostate cancer misses an average of 27 days of work a year. And there are cases Marc Rotenberg's written about where people are discriminated against. They aren't hired, they aren't promoted. And part of it is that people have no control over what's done right now.
ANDREWSThere's a group called Patients Like Me, which was terrific. It's a social network where people can go on and say, I'm depressed, but this worked for me, blah, blah, blah. Well, Nielsen Company, a data aggregator, secretly posed as a patient, collected information about all the other patients. And people starting pulling their information off the website, even though it was very healthy to get the support and be able to share. And so without protections, I think that's a great example about how our online self has -- is being treated in a way that our offline self isn't.
REHMJeff Jarvis, how do you respond? (technical) Oh, dear.
JARVIS...privacy in the book. It was very difficult and also to try to understand that not only the definitions, but the laws around it. Where I came out personally was to view privacy as an ethic, of knowing someone else's information. And out off that come a lot of behaviors that I think we would all agree upon. That you have a company that knows other companies' information should hold it securely, for example. You should know the context in which it's given. You shouldn't fool people into giving you that information. You should make -- be transparent about it. You should give them access to their information and so and so on.
JARVISBut again, there is also this benefit of sharing an openness that I think we have to talk about as a society. Go back to the health example. There are benefits to society if we felt more able to share. And if all we talk about is how we have to lock ourselves into rooms and protect ourselves from each other, I think we will suffer as a society.
REHMBut, Jeff, that is your personal view. And...
JARVISYeah, of course.
REHM...there are some people who simply would not share that view.
JARVISBut I'm not suggesting for a moment that anyone should be forced out of any closet that they have. But let's remember, for example, Diane, the power of public-ness in the hands of gays and lesbians in this country. It was the best weapon they had against the bigots who forced them in the closet.
JARVISOnce again, no one should ever be forced out of a closet of any kind. But when those people stood out bravely and said in front of the world that they were gay and you got a problem with that, that was the best way to change the norms of society to beat down that stigma and to make it okay for gay people to be gay people in America. That came through public-ness, not through trying to hide in one closet or another. It's important to...
REHMJeff Jarvis, let me ask you a question. Have you posted your own credit card number on the web?
JARVISDiane, of course not, and neither am I saying that. No one here, including me, is saying that everything must be public and that that's -- that would be insane. That's not what it's about.
JARVISI've posted about my ideas.
JARVIS…you know, that's pretty darn public.
REHM...but isn't it the fact that that information that you would make public is not necessarily what others would? Every...
JARVISOf course. And, Diane, I'm not saying (unintelligible) ...
JARVIS...I'm not saying that everyone should put up their credit card numbers. That would be insane. (unintelligible) ...
REHMBut I don't have a choice.
JARVISLet's solve that problem for a second. The problem really here is that we can't make secure transactions well in this country. I think we should have a system that where if our credit card number got out there, it wouldn't matter because we make transactions in a safe way. The data that gets out there, it's unfortunate. Things leak not always venally by somebody making a mistake. Well, we need a better system of transactions in this country and to recognize that. (unintelligible) ...
REHMAll right. Lori Andrews.
JARVIS...obligated position to say that I want to put my credit card number out there. That's insane and I'm not saying that.
ANDREWSBut right now, courts have said if the website you go to gives their consent or if your internet service provider gives consent, all that information, your credit card number, your social security number, anything you've said over the web becomes the basis for marketing. Just like your subscription list on Entertainment Weekly became a basis for marketing. I think there's agreement among all the guests here that social networks provide enormous benefits. If you think about it, you know, a band that starts up in the musical area gets a following that way and so forth. And we'd like to see people be able to develop by -- through disclosure and so forth.
ANDREWSBut what I'm worried about is that what, you know, we'll be -- our behaviors will be narrowed by social networks. We'll start branding ourselves from birth, like, oh I can only have pretty photos and smart posts because it might affect my college admission. And so we need to do something to protect this early on.
JARVISWhat is it you propose we do, in that example?
ANDREWSWe need to...
JARVISWhat? Is there a law that you want? What is it that you want in that case?
ANDREWSOkay. So what I want in that case is no data aggregator can collect my information without my advanced consent. Right now, there's an opt out possibility. So I don't even know certain websites are collecting it. So how can I go to them and ask to opt out? Opt out is oftentimes ineffective. I opted out of Spokio, of having all my data put on this company that I'd never heard of before I started writing a book. And they started putting me back in after that.
ANDREWSSo an opt out -- opt out is like saying I go home, there's 20 strangers in my house and I individually have to ask them one by one to leave. I should have to go someplace else to invite them before my data can be collected. And also I don't think it's so wrong to have something like Finland where you can't Google your potential employees. In Finland that came up because an employer had refused to hire someone because that guy had gone to a mental health conference. And so the employer's like, oh my god. I might be hiring someone who has a mental health problem.
JARVISThe problem with (unintelligible) ...
ANDREWSWell, he went as a patient's advocate.
JARVIS...the problem was what was done with it.
ANDREWSYou know, absolutely. But here's the thing, Jeff. It's very hard to -- when you have laws that only protect against the misuse because an employer who has the information, it's really hard to prove that that's why you didn't get the job as opposed to someone who might have had one more year of college.
ANDREWSWe've got to protect the information.
JARVIS...who's a brilliant researcher in this area gives the example, if I walk into your office and apply for a job, you can see in a second that with my prematurely gray hair, my age, my gender, my race, probably my education and these things. Now you -- this has nothing to do with the internet -- and you might choose to in fact not hire me 'cause I'm middle aged. And you can get away with that once. If you do it many times...
ROTENBERGNo, actually, Jeff, you can't.
JARVIS...obviously you won't get away with it.
ANDREWSYeah -- no, there...
ROTENBERGJeff, you're simply wrong on that point. I mean, we have employment law in the United States that prohibits discrimination against people...
JARVISWe agree, Marc, (unintelligible) ...
ROTENBERG...based on race, gender and age. And the interesting question here is...
JARVISWhat I'm saying is (unintelligible)...
ROTENBERG...whether we need to extend that employment protection to some of these other activities.
JARVISMarc, the way to solve that...
ROTENBERGBut if I could just -- if I could just add a couple of points here. I mean, first of all, I think it's clear that we all draw some lines to protect privacy. Your lines may be, you know, a lower bar than people who value privacy more. But it's obvious that you're still drawing lines and that's significant. The other thing to think about with respect to privacy is that it's highly dynamic. I mean, in the course of a day, you know, we're all on national radio right now having a public conversation. We'll spend other moments today with our family or with our friends. We'll have private moments.
ROTENBERGAnd my view is that it's the individual's ability to draw those boundaries to control those interactions that's really key. When that decision is taken away from us then there's a problem.
REHMMarc Rotenberg and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. I'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Durham, N.C. Good morning, Barbara. You're on the air.
BARBARAHi. Good morning, Diane.
BARBARAOne of -- a couple of questions I have is with the regard to what is considered personal and what is considered public information, as far as the internet goes. And I get very concerned when I find that people are selling information -- my personal information on the internet without my knowledge or consent, and that there is no way for me to remove any information that's been there previously. And I was wondering if maybe Marc could have some input onto that. Is there any way to remove information from the internet?
ROTENBERGIt's an excellent question. The short answer is it's very difficult for an individual to remove information. On the other hand it's not so difficult to regulate the practice of companies that collect and sell information about individuals. We've had in this country for more than 40 years regulation of the credit reporting industry because people understood that if someone was selling information about you that affected your ability to buy a home or a car or something else to start a business, it was very important that you knew what that information was and that it was accurate.
ROTENBERGI think we need to extend those protections to those businesses that are engaged in the so called data broker industry. It would give people more control over their data and it would also limit some of the more egregious business practices.
REHMAll right. To Burleson, Texas. Good morning, Maggie.
MAGGIEI want to bring a lower level problem that is not discussed here, but is large, I think. If you have the misfortune to make someone angry, even your innocent photos published in Facebook or Flicker can be altered. They can be comingled with less attractive photos of other people. I know a number of folks from a music site in the U.S. who made a British national party angry because we blocked their hate speech. And in response, they've taken photos they've harvested. They've put up spoof sites so that like an employer searching on a name will also hit that spoof site and find all of these radical photos.
MAGGIEAnd I know people who've actually lost jobs because they were victimized by this kind of action.
REHMAll right. Jeff Jarvis, do you want to comment?
JARVISThe internet is people and the world is filled with some bozos and venal souls and so will the internet be. And, you know, if someone liables you there are laws to handle that, whether it happens on paper or whether it happens on the internet. My concern is that if we manage the internet only to the worst case of these things there are unintended consequences of what could happen.
JARVISSo if you go back to the topic, for example, of the behavioral targeting of advertising knowing something about what you looked at. Well, if you got rid of that or if you made it only very difficult, media sites would lose a lot of money and we would end up with less news and less journalism, I believe, as a result. In fact, I like the fact that I get more targeted, more relevant things in both content and advertising than I would otherwise get if I were completely unknown. And if I want to be unknown, I can do that.
REHMYou must enjoy getting junk mail, Jeff.
JARVISWell, the problem there, we get junk mail, lord knows, in physical form a lot and we have no control over that. And I was just ready to blog post, going to put it up in about an hour, that talks about the problem in email is that the sender has control. When what I would like to see is systems in which the recipient has more control. So for example in Google Plus, Google's new social service, I decide who I listen to and I decide who can contact me.
REHMAll right. Jeff Jarvis and we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls. You'll hear more from each of our guests, Lori Andrews, Marc Rotenberg and Jeff Jarvis.
REHMWe are talking about questions of privacy rights, the internet, the entire digital landscape and what it is or is not doing to your sense of privacy. Let's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Paul. You're on the air.
PAULThank you, Diane. I think the discussion is very informative, but I think it's missing a few critical points. One, this whole premises based on informed consent and most consumers are not fully informed about where their data may be used. Most consumers are not aware that there are companies tracking them on Twitter and Facebook, as to the content of their conversations, called semantic analytics.
PAULAnd the insurance companies and others are purchasing that information without their knowledge and making decisions based on that for insurance claims, FICO scores and so on. And also, I have not seen anybody take a survey of Facebook users -- the FTC did not require it as part of their recent consent agreement with Facebook -- asking what the understanding of the Facebook user is as to the use of their information.
PAULI think that both regulators, as well as companies, need to do a better job of both informing consumers, as well as enforcing those rules that are on the books.
PAULAnd creating new rules.
ANDREWSThere are some surveys. And it turns out that the vast majority of people don't even think this behavioral advertising is possible. And one woman in response to a survey said, this sounds like something one of my paranoid friends would think up, when actually information is collected about you. And it may be used in ways that surprise you.
ANDREWSFor example, if, over the internet, they find out certain facts about you, like the fact that I'm a woman, when I call in on a complaint line to get something fixed with respect to my bank account, they may know women are willing to wait longer on hold and so they may keep me longer on hold than men. Where, in a physical bank, I would notice and I would complain if all the men were being taken before me.
ANDREWSAnd so there are many ways -- you bring up insurance companies, but many ways in which your information can be used against you.
ROTENBERGI think that speaks to one of the great paradoxes of privacy, which is that we are being told that we have less and less privacy, but the companies that have all of this data have become increasingly secretive. In other words, we can't tell how the data's being collected, how it's being used. It makes it very difficult for people to make meaningful decisions.
ROTENBERGAnd I think your caller's questions actually speaks to this very directly, that if people don't understand how the data's being used or what the consequences are posting information online, they can't make any type of informed choice. So while individuals need greater privacy, we think the company should be a lot more open, a lot more transparent so that we're better able to evaluate how the information is being used.
PAULAnd will agree, again. (unintelligible) …
REHMAll right. Let's go to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. So some of what's being touched on -- more on the Google side of things, on the information that's out there. I have every reason to believe that I actually lost or failed to be hired for about a $74,000-a-year job because after my interview my potential employer Googled my name.
MIKEAnd one of the first hits that came up -- because after this, I actually Googled it myself -- was that for a World Aids Day like two years ago, I actually spoke on behalf of an ASO. And in that -- I just spoke to a sorority, not to the whole college, and it came up that -- it came out in what I was speaking that I am HIV positive, that I am living with and not dying from HIV.
MIKEAnd I have every reason to believe that this potential employer saw that information. So one of your guests is saying that, you know, it's about, you know, it's not about what's out there, it's about how it's used. That's correct, but if we can't control how people use it, then it needs to be controlled how they can access it. Because the other side is that I don't want my prescription medication being mined and sold because I'm on medications that can't be used for anything else but the treatment of HIV.
MIKEI'm not ashamed of being HIV positive, but I shouldn't have to go to the editor of the piece that was Googled that had me saying I was positive in it and have them redact my name just so I don't lose any more potential employment.
JARVISWell, first, the bozo in that story is the employer, who I think was morally reprehensible and I believe there ought to be laws about that use and control. Second, though, I think we have to be careful about trying to say that we can restrict your ability to know something or restrict someone's ability to know something. Or the way (unintelligible) these days, the right to forget.
JARVISSo what you just suggested, what if it was The New York Times or your local paper that did a feature on you? Are you suggesting that there should be a right for you to go and get a newspaper to redact something that you don't like because it might have an impact on you? If it's not libelous, it's not wrong, it's just you don't like it. Well, there's an obvious and clear danger there.
JARVISI don't think we wanna be part of a society where restricting knowledge, the ability to know something -- the point I was trying to make before about employment was, I can't stop you from knowing something. It's impossible to do that if you already know it. But what I can do is regulate your use of that 'cause it's really the only logical way I can regulate it. Is that foolproof? Unfortunately, it's not. But as...
JARVIS...Marc said, we have made great strides in terms of nondiscrimination in many areas of employment. And to my mind what's important here is we should have a law stating you cannot be discriminated against 'cause you're sick.
ANDREWSOkay. So there's -- we do have laws that apply to The New York Times that are called privacy laws. And the publication of private facts, you know, like if you put my sex life in there or whatever, is actionable. One of the problems...
JARVISBut him speaking at a public event was not private.
ANDREWS...and it relates to, you know, that relates to an earlier caller, is we have a federal law, the Communications Decency Act which in Section 230 says that the things that you could bring action against The New York Times for, like publishing defamatory information and so forth, you can't bring those sort of actions against an internet service provider. And so if someone puts up defamatory information about me, untrue information about me and populates the Web with it and I don't get a job because of something that isn't even true, I have no legal recourse against that website.
ANDREWSAnd, you know, lots of people are...
JARVISCarry that through, Lori. If you carry that to the extent where you could ask -- you could make anyone take down anything that has a huge impact on free speech and the First Amendment and that's why Section 230 exists, is so that we can have open and free speech which we believe in in this country, in this great new tool, the internet.
REHMAll right. I want to go next to Chris in Peoria, Ill. Good morning, you're on the air. Chris, are you there?
CHRISYes, I am.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
CHRISCan you hear me?
CHRISYes. I think that it goes a little bit further than just the internet. There needs to be someplace where employees can go to say something about their employer or do something about their employer. I own a local pub, my wife and myself in our town. And we used to have a weekly paper that somebody produced that had pictures of people in the local establishments. And there is a big state-run company that told its employees, hey, if your picture ends up in this establishment or in this newspaper publication, there will be repercussions.
CHRISNow, they didn't tell them, you know, you're gonna get fired, but there will be repercussions. Now those employees, my customers, had no recourse but to, you know, duck and dodge somebody standing in an establishment taking a picture.
ROTENBERGIt's an interesting story, actually, 'cause that's the experience that people have online with Facebook. In other words, they find themselves in a setting, some friends take a photograph, they post the photograph for other friends to see and then that image becomes available to others, maybe becomes available to a potential employer and that's where the concern arises.
ROTENBERGBut that's also why, thinking again about the Facebook setting, it's so important for people to be able to control who has access this information. The photos that we take from vacation with family or college reunion are not the photos we necessarily wanna be sharing with the world.
ANDREWSAnd I think of this poor 24-year-old, Ashley Payne, who was a high school teacher who was not -- had not friended any students or any parents of students, goes to vacation in Ireland. There's a cute picture of her out of her 700 photos in Ireland, vacation photos, that shows her having a beer at the Guinness factory and they force her out of her job because of that.
ANDREWSNow, your caller brings up an interesting thing. Some employees of restaurants or other things have actually set up password protected websites to gripe about their employer. And in some cases, the employer has actually broken into those sites and used the information to fire the people.
REHMBut now, you have to ultimately think of the internet as a public space. You really do right now. Nothing is private.
ROTENBERGWell, I disagree, Diane. I mean, I think we use the internet in many, many different ways. We use the internet for email for example. Or we may send, you know, messages to friends. And they're clearly intended as personal communications. That all takes place across the internet. There are other parts of the internet that are very public. And the point that I simply keep coming back to is it's the individual who needs to be able make that choice, to be able to decide what is public and what is private.
REHMBut you also have to be very thoughtful about what you put up there if you're griping about your boss...
ROTENBERGBut if you...
REHM...on what you think is a private network, you better think again.
JARVISAnd then if you send that as an email to somebody (unintelligible) …
ROTENBERGYes. But that's right. If you send it in an email and it gets intercepted, you shouldn't say, oh, gee, I can't use email 'cause someone will intercept it. You should say, gee, it's wrong to intercept email and that shouldn't be allowed.
JARVISOr it's wrong for a friend to forward it on. And that friend is what did you in.
REHMGo ahead, Lori.
ANDREWSI'm astonished that with all other technologies that have come up, forensic technologies, medical technologies, even other computer technologies, when they've gone to court, judges have expanded our privacy rights. Here though, judges sort of throw up their hands and say, anything you post is public. And I was shocked when a New York judge said, oh, an email? That's just like a postcard. You should expect that everybody would be able to read it along the way.
ANDREWSAnd part of it is that they don't really understand the technology or they have the wrong notion. As some judges have said, well, it could be intercepted by hackers so consider it public. Well, that's like saying, I have no right to a law against peeping toms because I have windows in my house. No. Even though certain crime is enabled -- I might walk through an area with a high rape incidence, they don't say, well, too bad, you chose it.
ANDREWSAnd so just because someone could hack into your email doesn't mean we should consider it to be public.
REHMTo Cleveland, Oh. Good morning, Dan.
DANGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show.
DANSo you know I've been -- a lot of good points about privacy, but one thing that hasn't explicitly been stated is that with Google and Facebook and all of their ilk, we aren't the customers. We just feel as though we are. We're actually the product. And so we have the advantage. That's why they're afraid to use and it also means that they are motivated to put as much of our information out there as possible.
DANAnd we can talk about, you know, these theoretical privacy settings, but many users, you know, I'm 26. Many of my peers aren't tech savvy. (unintelligible) then you talk about people twice my age. They don't even understand how it works at all. They're afraid to touch it. So that's theoretical, but not real.
DANYou know, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, even suggests -- he is the former CEO -- even suggested that, you know, children should have their name changed when they reach a certain age to protect them from the internet. That's ludicrous.
JARVISHe was joking. He was joking.
JARVISHe made that very clear that he was joking, just for record.
REHMAll right. And just for the record, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Marc, you wanted to respond?
ROTENBERGWell, I think your caller just made an excellent point and it's something that a lot of people talk about when they look at the business model of a lot of the internet companies. People say, oh, isn't this great? All this stuff is free. Well, it's free in a sense. The business relies on the personal information that people are providing to generate advertising. And that, of course, creates this dynamic where more and more people are being encouraged to reveal information they might not otherwise choose to, which is also why I think it's so clear that there does need to be some regulation.
ROTENBERGReally, you can anticipate how this plays out over time. And it's because of the business model, that there will be very little privacy in the end.
REHMAll right. To Texas. Will, good morning, you're on the air.
WILLOh, good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
WILLI’m actually not a current Facebook user. I'm a former Facebook user. And in fact, that's why I'm calling is I wanna share my experience with actually terminating my Facebook account. It was a very striking experience to me. Firstly, to even find the point on the Facebook webpage where one tries to cancel their account or terminate their account is very complicated.
WILLAnd then when you finally find this, you don't actually press a button and terminate your account. In fact, what you do is you request an account termination. And then, if any time in the subsequent two weeks, you go anywhere near Facebook online, your account is automatically reactivated. And so this practice -- I realize that this is not directly related to your discussion, but this practice was very much surprising to me and so I wanted to share that and see if anyone else has had this experience.
REHMAll right. Marc?
ROTENBERGWell, this was actually one of the issues we raised in our complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Many people, like your caller, had contacted us and they said they didn't understand why it was...
ROTENBERG...after they had deleted their account, Facebook kept the information. And we pressed the Federal Trade Commission on this. And their order now requires Facebook 30 days within termination to truly delete an account. And I actually think this also speaks to a point that Jeff made earlier, which people need to think about. When we talk about the right to forget, the right to forget may also be, you know, listen, I've had enough with this service. I wanna end it. I have that right. And they basically should delete the data that they have about me.
ROTENBERGNow, of course, a lot of information about you will still be available to others. And I think people understand that, but I certainly think that people have the right to say to these businesses, listen, you know...
ROTENBERG...I now opting out, you know, delete what you have.
ANDREWSYeah, people don’t understand that Facebook makes $1.86 billion a year with its marketing, with using the private information about people to target them for ads and so forth. And so -- and they haven't been transparent. Each time they introduce something new, like, facial recognition that will tag me with my wine glass automatically at a wedding photo, for example, it's been very, very difficult to take the many, many steps to get there.
REHMAll right. Jeff Jarvis, what's your last word on this?
JARVISWell, let's recognized that The New York Times also uses information about you to better target its advertising and make more money. And that's okay. And in fact, it's necessary for media. And be careful about the regulation you put in, but I'll end on a note of agreement. I absolutely agree that especially in media and advertising, but also across, there's a need for much more transparency about what is done, why it's done and what benefit could be there and more control. We agree about that.
REHMAll right. Lori, last word?
ANDREWSYou know, I think I'm suggesting a constitution for social networks in order to protect a bunch of rights, including some we haven't even talked about, like the right to a fair trial where you now have jurors posting the facts of the case and asking friends to vote up and down.
ROTENBERGGreat technology, but we need to protect privacy.
REHMMarc Rotenberg and Lori Andrews. She is the author of "I Know Who You Are and Saw What You Did." Jeff Jarvis is associate professor, director of the interactive journalism program at City of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His book is titled "Public Parts: How Sharing in The Digital Age Improves The Way We Work And Live." Thank you all.
ANDREWSOh, thank you.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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