Privacy in America continues to erode online, report says

The Wall Street Journal's report says companies are increasingly connecting consumers' real-life identities to where they hang out online.

By Christina DesMarais, PC World |  Security, privacy

Facebook, long a lightning rod for criticism for lax privacy controls, was recently hammered for a loophole that lets a person be added to a discussion group by a friend without the user's permission.

At the heart of the controversy were two gay college students who reportedly had their sexual preference inadvertently exposed to hundreds of Facebook friends.

In addition, this summer a creepy issue bubbled up in Congress involving the dramatic uptick in the number of requests to cellular carriers from law enforcement for people's cell phone records.

The number, announced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), is incredible: In the last year federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have made 1.3 million demands for user cell phone data such as text messages, caller locations, and wiretaps.

But even more troubling is the fact that cellular carriers actually make a lot of money handing over their users' private information.

According to a letter drafted by Markey and other Democrats, Verizon charges from $50 to retrieve up to five days of stored text message content to $1,825 for multiple wiretap switches. And AT&T received more than $8.2 million in 2011 for collecting and turning over to law enforcement phone usage information.

And last month, a U.S. judge accepted the terms of a settlement deal between Google and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, in which Google will pay a $22.5 million fine for circumventing privacy protections in Apple's Safari browser.

Under that agreement, Google was barred from misrepresenting its privacy practices in the future and required to implement a program to ensure it stuck to its promises. It was not required to admit to any wrongdoing.

Just over a year later, the FTC sued Google again, this time for circumventing privacy protections in Apple's Safari browser to place tracking cookies on user's computers. It did this despite ensuring users that they did not need to take any actions to block its cookies in Safari.

Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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