Changes in law aim to protect kids’ internet privacy

Data known as “persistent identifiers,” which allow a child to be tracked over time and across websites, no longer can be collected without a parent’s permission, under the new rules.

Aiming to prevent companies from exploiting online information about children under 13, the Obama administration on Dec. 19 imposed sweeping changes in regulations designed to protect a young generation with easy access to the web.

But some critics of the changes worry they could stifle innovation in the market for educational apps.

Two years in the making, the amended rules to the decade-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act go into effect in July. Internet privacy advocates said the changes were long overdue in an era of cell phones, tablets, social networking services, and online stores with cell-phone apps aimed at kids for as little as 99 cents.…Read More

Internet privacy controls challenge tech industry

Online publishers, advertisers and ad networks use "cookies," Web beacons and other sophisticated tracking tools to follow consumers around the Internet

The federal government has put Google, Microsoft, Apple and other technology companies on notice: Give consumers a way prevent advertisers from tracking their movements across the Web — or face regulation.

Yet for all its innovative know-how and entrepreneurial spirit, the technology industry has yet to agree on a simple, meaningful solution to protect consumer privacy on the Internet.

So privacy watchdogs and lawmakers are stepping up the pressure, calling for laws that would require companies to stop the digital surveillance of consumers who don’t want to be tracked. They argue that effective privacy tools are long overdue from an industry that typically moves at breakneck speed.…Read More

Legislators support internet privacy, but question how to do it

Lawmakers examining the Federal Trade Commission’s recommendation for a “do not track” mechanism to restrict the monitoring of internet users said that they supported stricter safeguards for consumer privacy, but raised questions on how the system would work, reports the New York Times. Many also expressed concern that it would undermine one of the main pillars of the Internet’s growth–the development of free, advertising-supported content. Even within the F.T.C. itself, there is not unanimous support for a do-not-track effort. William E. Kovacic, a Republican commissioner who was the agency’s chairman during the last year of the Bush administration, concurred with the decision to release the F.T.C. report on Wednesday. But he added that he believed the do-not-track recommendation was “premature,” and that the commission needed to present “greater support for the proposition that consumer expectations of privacy are largely going unmet.”

Some Democrats in the House and the Senate, however, have already embraced the idea of a do-not-track mechanism. On Thursday, Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he would introduce a bill that would put in place such a system to prevent the tracking of children using the internet…

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F.B.I. seeks wider wiretap law for web

Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, traveled to Silicon Valley on Tuesday to meet with top executives of several technology firms about a proposal to make it easier to wiretap internet users, reports the New York Times. Mr. Mueller and the F.B.I.’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, were scheduled to meet with senior managers of several major companies, including Google and Facebook, according to several people familiar with the discussions. How Mr. Mueller’s proposal was received was not clear.

“I can confirm that F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller is visiting Facebook during his trip to Silicon Valley,” said Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s public policy manager. Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, acknowledged the meetings but did not elaborate.

Mr. Mueller wants to expand a 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, to impose regulations on Internet companies……Read More

Rutgers student kills self after sex act broadcast online

Two Rutgers students have been charged with invasion of privacy for the acts that reportedly led to a classmate's death.
Two Rutgers students have been charged with invasion of privacy for the acts that reportedly led to a classmate's death.

A Rutgers University student jumped to his death off a bridge a day after authorities say two classmates surreptitiously recorded him having sex with a man in his dorm room and broadcast it over the internet.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge last week, said his family’s attorney, Paul Mainardi. Police recovered a man’s body on Sept. 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

ABC News and the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On Sept. 29, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.…Read More

Code that tracks users’ browsing prompts lawsuits

Sandra Person Burns used to love browsing and shopping online. Until she realized she was being tracked by software on her computer that she thought she had erased, reports the New York Times. Ms. Person Burns, 67, a retired health care executive who lives in Jackson, Miss., said she is wary of online shopping: “Instead of going to Amazon, I’m going to the local bookstore.” Ms. Person Burns is one of a growing number of consumers who are taking legal action against companies that track computer users’ activity on the internet. At issue is a little-known piece of computer code placed on hard drives by the Flash program from Adobe when users watch videos on popular web sites like YouTube and Hulu. The technology, so-called Flash cookies, is bringing an increasing number of federal lawsuits against media and technology companies and growing criticism from some privacy advocates who say the software may also allow the companies to create detailed profiles of consumers without their knowledge…

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End of gay teen web site sparks privacy concerns

A now-defunct web site that catered to gay youth is now ensnared in a federal bankruptcy proceeding that its founder says could result in as many as 1 million profiles being sold to creditors, putting its former subscribers’ privacy at risk, CNET reports. XY, which billed itself as a young gay men’s magazine and could be found at, ceased publishing in 2007. Its founder filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, which could put names, addresses, eMail addresses, unpublished personal stories, and other information about gay minors into creditors’ hands. The Federal Trade Commission recently expressed its concerns, saying in a letter to creditors and attorneys involved in the case that “any sale, transfer, or use” of XY’s personal information “raises serious privacy issues and could violate” federal law. XY’s creditors have hired a lawyer to obtain the personal information held by the magazine and web site. But because’s privacy policy said, “We never give your info to anybody,” any personal data should be “destroyed,” wrote David Vladeck, the head of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, in a letter this month. The question of who owns personal data collected by a failed company, and what should be done with it, is not a new question—but none of those earlier bankruptcy proceedings included information as sensitive as the customer list for a magazine and web site that targeted gay youth between 13 and 17 years old who were in the process of grappling with their sexual identity…

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Redrawing the route to online privacy

On the internet, things get old fast. One prime candidate for the digital dustbin, it seems, is the current approach to protecting privacy on the internet, according to the New York Times. It is an artifact of the 1990s, intended as a light-touch policy to nurture innovation in an emerging industry. And its central concept is “notice and choice,” in which web sites post notices of their privacy policies and users can then make choices about sites they frequent and the levels of privacy they prefer. But policy and privacy experts agree that the relentless rise of internet data harvesting has overrun the old approach of using lengthy written notices to safeguard privacy. These statements are rarely read, are often confusing and can’t hope to capture the complexity of modern data-handling practices. As a result, experts say, consumers typically have little meaningful choice about the online use of their personal information — whether their birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers or web-browsing habits.

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Facebook faces flak over privacy changes

Facebook's updated privacy policy has attracted national attention.
Facebook's updated privacy policy has attracted national attention.

A Washington, D.C.-based privacy advocacy group and nine other organizations have filed a complaint against Facebook over the online social network’s latest privacy changes.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said it has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into the changes Facebook has made to its users’ privacy settings and to force Facebook to restore its old privacy safeguards. The changes, unveiled last week, include treating users’ names, profile photo, friends list, gender, and other data as publicly available information.

The complaint says the changes diminish user privacy by disclosing personal information to the public that was previously restricted. (See “How to protect your privacy on Facebook.”)…Read More

How to protect your privacy on Facebook

Keeping information private on Facebook is easy if you follow several steps.
Keeping information private on Facebook is possible if you follow several steps.

Over the past week, Facebook has been nudging its users to review and update their privacy settings. The site has given users many granular controls over their privacy, more than what’s available on other major social networks. Still, in updating their privacy settings, several users might have made more information about themselves public than what they had intended.

If you want to stay out of people’s view, but still want to be on Facebook, here are some things to look out for as you take another look at your settings. (See “Facebook faces flak over privacy changes.”)

1. Some of your information is viewable by everyone.…Read More