I have said time and time again that electronic privacy is, at best, quickly slipping out of existence, and at worst, already an illusion. That might be overly cynical, but it makes life easier if you can expect that whatever information you post online could realistically, unexpectedly, and embarrassingly, be published and seen by many people. Same goes for your personal consumer information. Advertisers figure out your consumer preferences, the music you like, the food you eat, etc. and so on.

That said, at least some public officials are not yet ready to let privacy fade quietly into the night. The Attorney General of California has created a new organization — a start-up, if you will — specifically to protect individual citizens from “those who misuse technology to invade the privacy of others.” Ooh, methinks that ain’t a bad idea…

Yesterday, the California DOJ put out a press release announcing the creation of the Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit. Sounds like something out of a new cop show. The release includes a nice little soundbite from Attorney General Kamala D. Harris:

In the 21st Century, we share and store our most sensitive personal information on phones, computers and even the cloud. It is imperative that consumers are empowered to understand how these innovations use personal information so that we can all make informed choices about what information we want to share…

The Privacy Unit will police the privacy practices of individuals and organizations to hold accountable those who misuse technology to invade the privacy of others.

The team will consist of six attorneys. According to the press release, the announcement follows “the forging of an industry agreement among the nation’s leading mobile and social application platforms to improve privacy protections for consumers around the globe who use apps on their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices.”

David Kravets at Wired’s Threat Level blog makes the appropriate quip:

If the new unit is run like a startup, it could change the world by filing a billion complaints in the next year. Hell, maybe even better, what if it filed just enough to jolt Silicon Valley out of its default policy of “invading user privacy by default and apologizing for it later,” as exemplified most recently by Path and its deep-pocketed apologists.

That’s not very likely, of course, especially since privacy laws are weak. But the success of Instagram or Facebook wasn’t likely, either. We’re looking forward to seeing what Harris’ attorneys ship.

Me too. I don’t think anyone would have particularly great expectations of something like this. But at the same time, managing expectations is a good way to create a potentially successful situation. We will have to wait and see. In the mean time, it’s probably still a good idea to keep those lingerie photos off-line.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit [State of California Department Of Justice]
California Starts Up a Privacy Enforcement Unit [Threat Level / Wired]


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