Representatives from Apple and Google appeared on Capitol Hill today to dodge bullets that continue to fly after their location-based services privacy fiasco with Droid and the iPhone. After the tech behemoths defended apps that help people avoid getting busted for drunk driving and explained how it wasn't their fault privacy policies were so confusing, committee chair Senator Al Franken, offered a no-duh closing remark:
I think people have the right to know who is getting their information and how information is shared and used. I still have serious doubts those rights are being respected in law or in practice.
Ok, so here's the Orwellian takeaway. A couple of the world's biggest and most powerful corporations are tracking our every move and sharing it with whomever wants it. Then there's the whole data-mining business, a multibillion dollar industry responsible for that Zappos ad that follows you everywhere. And, gosh, it seems like some group of hackers brings down a video game network or breaks into a bank's database leaking everybody's personal information every week. In fact, one hacker groups promised today that they would conduct a major online security breach every Monday.
If you're not scared yet, you should be. What Franken's hearing today made very clear is that companies like Google and Apple are going to have to start being more transparent, and consumers are going to have to start sticking up for themselves. And even though lots of very nice people in Washington are working hard to figure this out, digital rights happen on such a personal level that you're probably going to have to start reading those terms and conditions. Thankfully, Ashkan Solani, an independent researcher who testified today, recommended forcefully that tech companies better define what's in user agreements and how it will affect the consumer on a daily basis.