We know that Google and Facebook (and all the rest of our great Internet companies) track our personal data. But they like to tell us that they have to do it to improve their services. Charles Petersen, writing in the New York Review of Books, suggests that this is a false choice, and offers up a solid suggestion for regulating the tracking of your private data.
The most important step that regulators could take would be to permanently decouple the private information that sites need for personalized services--for example, helping you find a restaurant based on your current location--from the private information that sites may use for commercial purposes, such as informing advertisers of that location. A "Do Not Track" list would likely be too simplistic an approach.
What I would propose instead is something like a "Chinese Wall," akin to the division maintained between the editorial and advertising departments of newspapers, or to the separation once mandated between commercial and investment banking (though hopefully more effective than both). The result would be a firm distinction between the data that companies must gather to provide helpful services and the personal data that companies may exploit for commercial purposes such as advertising. This solution would leave open the question of whether, in their zeal to provide better services, companies may learn a dangerously large amount about individuals, information that would be vulnerable to both theft and subpoena. But with such a clear division in place, Internet users would at least be able to opt out of data tracking for commercial purposes without degrading the level of service that they receive.
Read the full story at New York Review of Books.