Catch the Criminals – Don’t Pass the Buck

When a crime is committed it’s the criminal that is responsible.  But some in Congress think that since capturing cyber-criminals is challenging we should hold online services accountable.  That’s like holding Ford accountable for making the car a bank-robber uses.

But that didn’t stop the attempts by Sen. McCain to assign false blame at today’s Senate hearing on a threat to consumers called “malvertisements” — when a cyber-criminal injects malware into an online ad and then misleads an ad network into displaying the contaminated ad.

I appreciated the shift in focus from privacy to security as threats to consumers’ security pose real harms.  Unfortunately, the hearing was more about trying to assign liability rather than talking about catching the criminal perpetrators of this new form of malware. Read more

The Cost of Collateral Damage from Data Breaches

Consumers come first.  The theft of data affecting thousands of shoppers from the servers of Target and Nieman Marcus could harm individuals. And the threat of identity theft has exploded, rising by more than 50 percent from 2005 through 2010.

Media and policymakers are right to focus on customer plight.  But we shouldn’t forget that data theft also costs retailers too and we shouldn’t resort to new legislation that penalizes the victim.

With any data breach, businesses face the obvious damage to trust and consumer confidence.  Consumers start shopping at competitors and become skeptical of loyalty cards.  But there’s also the monetary cost of a data breach cutting a business’s ability to meet investor expectations, grow and create jobs. Read more

Internet Dodges a Bullet in California

California’s Legislative Affairs Office (LAO) did innovators and their customers a huge service earlier this month, when it released a report that warned of the unforeseen costs of imposing a sweeping new privacy standard.

But while the LAO may have warded off one serious threat, in one state, it’s good work won’t be enough to hold back a rising tide of economically disastrous “privacy” measures nationwide.

The time is ripe to build on what the California LAO accomplished, by conducting a nationwide study that examines the economic impacts of all proposed privacy measures – not just to governments – but to the innovative industries that they target.

The focus of the LAO study was a draft ballot initiative – backed by former State Senator Steve Peace – that would have required all Internet companies to obtain affirmative, opt-in consent before sharing virtually any customer data — even for necessary functioning of services. Read more

Protect Employees from their Social Ghosts But Don’t Rush Bad Social Media Rules

A new survey looking at how teens perceive the Internet reinforces the need to think seriously about how and whether employers should be allowed access to employees’ social media accounts. Striking the right balance could have a profound impact on the next generation of workers, whose entire lives have played out online.

The survey, performed by Hart Research Associates, found 31% of teens are concerned that their social behaviors online will “haunt” them when it comes time to apply for colleges and jobs.

The study blows holes in the notion that teens are oblivious or uncaring about the long-term affects of their online behaviors. It paints a picture of a generation of Internet savvy teens who grasp the extent to which the Internet has lengthened the half-life of youthful indiscretion.

The measure may also heap more fuel on the fire of legislative efforts to limit employers’ ability to use employees’ social media histories against them Read more

Kids’ Privacy Regulations and the Law of Unintended Consequences

A new set of federal regulations intended to protect kids online ironically may end up decimating kid-friendly content on the Internet.

NetChoice this week filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Our submission highlights severe flaws with the new rules, which could dramatically limit the amount of safe, constructive content available to kids online.

The biggest problem with the new rules is that they represent a unauthorized, unsupported expansion of COPPA, a law that has effectively protected kids’ personal information for more than a decade. Read more

Emotional Climate Change

Flashy newspaper headlines drive clicks but they can also mislead readers.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project just released a study of teens’ use of social networks.  It was a joint project with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), who featured the study at their annual conference in Washington.  Like all of Pew’s work, this study provides a deeply nuanced view of the subject, breaking down behaviors and identifying emerging trends.

At the FOSI conference yesterday, I thanked Pew for helping to describe what they call the “emotional climate” for teens using social networking.   But the media wants to write headlines about “emotional climate change” when it comes to meanness among teens – and then blame it on the Internet. Read more

How to Quarantine Online Virus Outbreaks

Epidemics, virus outbreaks, we want and try to stop them.  We’ve seen their destructive capabilities throughout history: small pox, yellow fever, and more recently, swine flu.  Often, the best way to slow and even stop an outbreak is through research, education, and enforcement.

At a meeting of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences on the Hill last week, Prof. Deirdre Mulligan of the University of California-Berkley analogized applying tactics used in preventing the spread of real world diseases to limiting the spread of viruses on computer systems, stating “We must manage the ‘disease’ in the computer system” much in the same way we manage diseases in the real world.

This analogy makes sense, but Prof. Mulligan was speaking to a room of House and Senate staff who might misinterpret the analogy to justify new laws instead of using exising laws to protect the common online good. Read more

Just in Time for Halloween: Privacy Advocates Say Cookies are Scary

Halloween is fast approaching and while that makes it a good time to reflect on the treats that internet cookies enable, privacy advocates seem fixated on the bad actors allegedly using cookies to play tricks.  The most recent example of this occurred yesterday morning at a press event on the collection of information through “cookies” and companies who read their cookies when you visit other webpages.

After two hours of discussion, there were examples of harms from data breaches, theft of data, and misuse of public information, all examples of tricks from bad actors.   But nowhere in the discussion were there examples of harm from cookies.

The more I learn about cookies, the more I see them as a treat — not a a trick.  Cookies are benign, have been around for years, and are beneficial to my Internet experience. Read more

Trying to Put Children in an Online Oasis is Just a Mirage

Today NetChoice member ACT‘s Morgan Reed testified at yet another privacy hearing.  This one was before the House Energy & Commerce Committee on children’s privacy online and the need to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Mr. Reed brought to the attention of all present the hard work of app developers to protect children’s privacy and how industry self-regulation is working, a real oasis for privacy.

However, the privacy advocates did what they always do, which was to call for more Congressional regulations.  And once again, when asked fundamental questions about the need for regulations, the privacy advocates balked and failed to show a need for additional regulations. Read more

Hi, My Name Is …

When you interact with others online, is it better to be anonymous or to use your real name?  Today, a diversity of social network services gives you the choice between anonymity or real names.  But some advocates for free expression want to eliminate that choice.

For those who want to know who their friends are, we have services like Facebook, and for those who’d prefer to remain anonymous when ranting or organizing, we have networks like Twitter.  Choices like these allow users, advertisers, political activists, and entrepreneurs to mix and match online services that were unimaginable a decade ago. Read more