California Privacy Bills Top List of Internet’s Worst Legislation

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Before today, we’ve never selected a state’s entire legislative agenda as the top item on our iAWFUL list of bad Internet laws, because no single state had ever made such a concerted effort to regulate, restrict and repress e-commerce.

California has always had a reputation for being pioneering.

Over the past six months, the Sacramento statehouse has unleashed a torrent of misguided, regressive bills targeted at the heart of the innovation industry that is at the heart of the economic recovery – not only in California, but across the nation.

Individually, none of these bills poses as much threat as the second item on our list – the federal Internet sales tax  that topped the last iAWFUL – but taken together they not only represent a disturbing new trend of regulatory interventionism, but also a serious threat to the Internet economy. Read more

Adding a Shallow End to the Social Network Swimming Pool

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On Monday, the Wall Street Journal pulled the ostrich’s head out of the sand. They reported that Facebook is considering whether and how to accommodate users under the age of 13. It’s generating a flurry of coverage, but is anyone truly surprised?

Several independent surveys have concluded that not only are children under the age of 13 using Facebook, but that their parents are helping them do it — by lying about their date of birth when setting-up an account.

Of course this isn’t unique to Facebook. How many pre-teens have faked their age to get a gmail account, or to view movie and video game trailers? Kids are always going places where they’re not allowed and in all honestly, we’ve been here before… Read more

Privacy Zealots to America: ‘The Sky is Falling…Again’

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Privacy zealots have a big problem.

In order to get what they want, they need people to be afraid, but gulf between their Chicken-Little claims and the actual experiences of most Internet users grows wider by the day.

Their latest effort to salvage their ever-diminishing credibility comes in response to a seemingly innocuous Consumer Reports survey on the Facebook habits of American consumers. Read more

Easter Surprise: Choices Matter

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Today, my family decided to drive 300 miles to visit my parents for the holidays.  We selected snacks for the road, chose a route, and set the cruise control at 65 (wishful thinking, given all the traffic coming out of Washington).

Sure, there were risks to with my decision – whining kids, car trouble, aggressive drivers – but it was worth it.

As I was relaxing after the drive I opened Facebook – an app I decided to put on my tablet – and was surprised to see an article recommended by WSJ Social, an app that I also chose to download from the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal article tells me what happens if I install an app and agree to give it access to the info it requests:  (ready?)  The app can then access that info about me and my Facebook friends. Read more

Taxing Tirades

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Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) delivered a speech in the Senate today that flamed Facebook for complying with the tax code, and suggested that if only tax laws were changed then the government would have the money to “pay for programs to protect our seniors and veterans, put cops on the beat, or teachers in classrooms.”

Talk about raining on the parade!

We get that Senator Levin has a thing against corporations getting favorable treatment under the tax laws. Unless of course the tax benefits specifically help his state’s ailing auto industry.

In that case, Senator Levin says special tax treatment isjustfine.

Today’s speech was a platform for the Senator’s legislation that would forbid companies from booking the cost of employee stock grants differently than the cost they deduct for income tax purposes following an IPO.

It’s sad to see our Senate making it a priority to maximize the government’s take from one of the only functioning economic engines left in the country.  Never mind that Facebook owner-employees – and the myriad spin-off ventures spawned by this 8 year old enterprise – are set to drop billions of dollars into federal and state tax coffers.

There is no doubt that our tax system is confusing and contorted, but this practice of picking winners in one industry and choosing losers in another is exactly what got us into this mess.  Instead of piecemeal changes that target the golden goose, Senator Levin should focus on fundamental tax reform that will benefit all businesses.

 

Good News That Won’t Make the News

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Because good news is so rarely reported, here’s a headline you probably won’t see today: Social Network Funds Grants to Protect Kids Online.

Then again, it’s possible that some reporters will spin that into bad news to make for a flashy headline.  For example, last November PEW came out with research on teens’ use of social networks.  The Washington Post led its story with, “There’s something about the Internet that can bring out the meanness in teenagers.”

While PEW found that 9 of 10 teens have witnessed bullying online, it went on to report that teens encounter far more bullying in-person and in texting than on social networks.  PEW also found many positive benefits to teens’ use of social networks, including the finding that 80% of teens have defended a victim of online bullying. Read more

Google Search: Now Starring Google+

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For more than a decade, the Holy Grail for Internet marketers has been to find some way to improve their rankings in Google’s search algorithm. Now, thanks to Google’s new social search feature, anyone can grab hold of this once-elusive prize…just as long as they have a Google+ account.

If you’ve done a Google search recently, you’ve probably noticed the search engine’s nifty new feature. Just to the right (and sometimes indented below) your search results is a prominently featured panel featuring relevant social media listings related to your search.

A search for “sports”, for instance, might return a social listing for soccer star David Beckham; “politics” might yield a social link for Newt Gingrich, and “cooking” might get you the latest from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It’s a thoughtful and timely functionality, clearly developed in response to the increasing role that the Social Web plays in business, politics, and interpersonal communications.

But there is a tiny catch. Read more

The Data Commissioner Who Cried Wolf

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In August, Ireland’s Data Protection (DPC) Commissioner Billy Hawks made headlines by airing a laundry list of potential Facebook privacy violations, including the creation of “shadow profiles” and the collection of information about non-Facebook users.

At the same time, the Irish Commissioner declared that his planned audit of Facebook’s privacy practices was, “likely to be the most detailed, challenging and intensive audit ever undertaken by his office.”  The announcement was good for generating headlines, but as the results of his audit show, the alarming headlines were unjustified and, in some cases, wrong.

Fast-forward to today’s news about the audit findings where the Commissioner concluded that, “The audit has found a positive approach and commitment on the part of Facebook Ireland to respecting the privacy rights of its users.”

Well, that conclusion was unexpectedly un-alarming.

Just like last month’s FTC consent agreement, Facebook emerged from an engagement with government auditors without dramatic revelations of plots to build dossiers on every person on the planet.

Read more

Where is the Button to ‘Like’ Facebook’s Cookies?

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In 2009, EPIC, a privacy group, filed a privacy complaint about Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  This prompted the FTC to announce last month an agreement where Facebook must create a comprehensive privacy program, delete content after termination of a user account, and do comprehensive privacy audits every two years.  If Facebook fails to comply, it faces millions of dollars in fines.

Unfortunately, after obtaining privacy sanctions against Facebook, EPIC announced today that it considered the agreement a “FAIL” and launched a campaign to demand additional sanctions on Facebook.

I visited EPIC’s site to learn more about their new demands.  EPIC demands the FTC to “prevent Facebook from secretly tracking users across the web.”  That sounds scary, but EPIC never explains what it means by “secret tracking.” I found only one reference to tracking, secret or otherwise, buried in a 2010 EPIC complaint about Facebook’s cookies.  So I can only assume that by “secret tracking” EPIC means Facebook reading their cookies when users visit other sites.  But it wasn’t until I thought more about these Facebook cookies that I realized why EPIC hid their explanation of “secret tracking.”

Read more

A Golf Clap for the FTC and Facebook

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We’re giving a polite “golf clap” for The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook on today’s announcement of a voluntary agreement designed to protect user privacy while allowing Facebook – and an entire ecosystem of online service providers – to continue innovating.

First off, it’s almost always better to get private industry and federal regulators to reach a mutual agreement on resolving complaints.  Far too often, the kneejerk response from regulators and elected officials is to call for new legislation.   And those new laws usually just restrain innovation by legitimate companies, while those intent on bad behavior ignore new laws just as they ignored the old laws.

It this case, the FTC and Facebook tackled a list of complaints that were raised by a small but media-savvy industry of professional privacy advocates.

In general, the 800 million users around the globe who joined Facebook do so in order to make their information more visible to public and to their network of friends. Read more