Moreover, many of us share data promiscuously on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and other social sites, only dimly aware our personal information is also being collected by both marketers and the government. There's an entire industry devoted to mining that data, matching it to real-life activities, and using it to decide whether you're likely to vote Democrat or Republican, if you're in the market for a car, if you're pregnant, and whether you're a good candidate for credit or a bad insurance risk.
Little wonder then that security expert Bruce Schneier recently authored an essay declaring that we're done:
Despite this gloomy assessment, all hope is not lost. While threats to our personal privacy expand daily, so do potential solutions -- whether it's new privacy legislation, enhanced regulation, stealth computing technology, or the emergence of a consumer-driven data economy.
Legislation: A powerful tool for online privacy, mired by politicsMost Americans would be surprised to learn how little privacy legislation exists at the national level. Aside from limited protections on the sharing of health and financial information (as well as video rental records), most privacy law is based on interpretations of the Fourth Amendment -- which only regulates intrusions by the government, not commercial entities -- and FTC Act provisions against unfair or deceptive practices.
There is, however, no dearth of proposed legislation attempting to treat our privacy ills. The Commercial Privacy Rights Act of 2011 (aka the Kerry-McCain bill) would limit the type of data companies could collect without permission and require opt-outs for the rest. The Do Not Track Online Act would require all online companies to honor do-not-track requests from Web surfers. There are bills aiming to limit how much data mobile apps can collect and what they can and can't do with location data.