If anyone still actually used MySpace, I think it would be news to a lot of people. That notwithstanding, the OG social networking site made headlines yesterday for settling with the FTC over some major alleged privacy problems.

It’s just more proof that by going on the internet, you are basically getting naked and showing everyone your family jewels. No one should be surprised by stuff like this anymore, but let’s see the details of the allegations, as well as what MySpace has to do now….

The FTC claimed MySpace made deceptive promises about how much access advertisers had to user accounts. From the Blog of the Legal Times:

The FTC alleged that Myspace violated Section 5 of the FTC Act, which bars deceptive acts or practices, by promising users it would not share their personally identifiable information without their permission. In reality, according to the FTC’s administrative complaint, Myspace revealed unique user “Friend IDs” to advertisers, which meant companies “could take simple steps to get detailed information about individual users.”

“Advertisers also could combine the user’s real name and other personal information with additional information to link broader web-browsing activity to a specific individual,” the FTC stated.

As part of the proposed settlement, MySpace must “establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program, including a requirement that it obtain biennial assessments of its efforts by independent, third-party auditors for 20 years.”

Yes, because MySpace will definitely still be around in 2032. In any case, the site also agreed to accurately represent the information it shares.

We heard from White & Case partner Daren Orzechowski, who shared his take on the case:

“The FTC wants companies to be honest with consumers and accurately inform them on how they are using their personal information. The FTC’s action against Myspace is another step towards forcing companies to be more transparent about their privacy practices.”

Anxiousness about the access advertisers have to everybody who uses the internet is not new, but Orzechowski, who focuses on legal technology and privacy, is right. The idea that the problem is worth aggressively managing has recently been gaining even more traction on policy and grassroots levels. In addition to concerns about invasive marketing, the tech world is abuzz with folks speculating about the adverse effects we will see down the road if insurance companies, potential employers, or credit rating agencies get too much access to private data.

The situation is worrisome enough as is, but it feels worse when a major social networking player faces allegations of basically lying about how much access corporate interests get to users. It’s one thing if people expect not to have any privacy, but when the expectation is there, and turns out to be false — well, that’s just plain scary.

For those interested in trying more unusual techniques to protect their online privacy, a great New York Times article came out earlier this week with some relatively simple software strategies. Here is the main gist, but it’s worth reading the whole thing:

Before you can thwart the snoopers, you have to know who they are. There are hackers hanging around Wi-Fi hot spots, to be sure. But security experts and privacy advocates said more worrisome were Internet service providers, search engine operators, e-mail suppliers and Web site administrators — particularly if a single entity acts in more than one capacity, like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and AOL. This means they can easily collect and cross-reference your data, that is, match your e-mails with your browsing history, as well as figure out your location and identify all the devices you use to connect to the Internet.

“The worst part is they sell this extremely creepy intrusion as a great boon to your life because they can tailor services to your needs,” said Paul Ohm, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder who specializes in information privacy and computer crime. “But do most people want to give that much away? No.”

A few days ago, I installed Do Not Track Plus, a browser add-on mentioned in the article that prevents web sites from relaying information about you and your visit to tracking companies. My “all-time blocked” count is already upwards of 2,000.

In the end, I think the clear solution here is, if you want to protect your privacy, follow the lead of Christopher McCandless or Aron Ralston. Because, you know, going off the grid never ends poorly, either.

How to Muddy Your Tracks on the Internet [New York Times]
Myspace Settles with FTC Over Personal Data Privacy Charges [Blog of the Legal Times]


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