The biggest privacy scandal of 2011

Privacy was all over the news this year, and there are plenty of scandals to choose from. What was the most outrageous? Read on to find out.


It’s been an amazing year for privacy on the Internet – and by “amazing” I mean horrifying and gratifying in nearly equal measures.

Shaun Dakin and Jon Pincus of Privacy Camp, a group that holds privacy “unconferences” each year, polled privacy wonks across social media sites, asking them to name the biggest privacy story of 2011.

Number One on the list: The growth of what the ACLU and others have dubbed the Surveillance-Industrial Complex. From the use of automated license plate scanners by the Washington DC police to the expansion of TSA screening to Amtrak rail stations, from the doubling of Federal wiretaps to the booming $5 billion annual market for off-the-shelf spy gear – it’s been a banner year for spooks of all varieties. Not so much for the victims of those spooks.

The fact is, like everything else in technology, sophisticated spy gear that was once available only to government agencies has dropped in price to the point where virtually anyone can play NSA spook. Expect to see more privacy scandals in the coming years built around amateur spies.

My top pick for Privacy story of the Year was actually number two on Privacy Camp’s list – or, if you want to be technical, numbers two through five: Location, Location, Location.

It seems like every other mobile app wants your location, even if they have no business knowing it. But that’s only the beginning. Apple and Microsoft both got caught storing location histories on their handsets, while the Carrier IQ fiasco made it clear how easy it is for telecoms (and law enforcement) to siphon all kinds of information off your mobile. Shopping malls in Virginia and Southern California are experimenting with schemes that allow them to track users’ movements through their shopping centers via their cell phones.

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