The Norman Transcript

Columns

June 25, 2013

Companies selling users

NORMAN — Much has been made in recent weeks — and rightly so — about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and Internet connections.

Largely lost in the discussion of such data mining is this reality: The government’s activities pale in comparison to those of the tech giants who provide such services.

At least as described so far, the feds are focused on connections — who is talking to who. The tech firms — Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and others — are interested in the content, which they slice and dice and use themselves and sell to others.

They know who you are, where you are, that your daughter wore a red bikini at the lake last weekend and that you’re considering buying a new car.

And they intend to use that knowledge to add to their wealth. At least the government’s purpose — again, at least as known to date — is the less selfish goal of preserving the public’s safety.

Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat who chairs a subcommittee on privacy issues, has said that the tech giants increasingly view their users less as customers and more as product.

Tech’s apologists say that’s overblown, that competition will keep them in line: If you don’t trust Google with your search results, you can use Bing or Yahoo. But the problem is that they’re all doing the same thing.

The Instagram dustup last December is worth keeping in mind. The photo-sharing site (owned by Facebook) laid claim to ownership of everything posted there, including the right to use photos in ads without compensation or even notification. It quickly retreated under a hail of protest — but its announcement made it clear that Instagram wasn’t surrendering for all time.

The tech giants expect our sense of privacy, and our demand that it be respected, to continue to erode. Indeed, they are banking on it.

— The Mankato, Minn., Free Press

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