In The News

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Privacy? Anyone Remember What That Is?

Does privacy really exist any more?  Sure it does, but sometimes it's easy to forget. 

Take the story's in today's Tennessean: "Nashville Residents Take on Google Wi-Spy, Join Privacy Lawsuit."  Google is accused of tapping into wireless networks while it drove by individuals' houses to capture a copy of their homes for placement on Google Earth.  According to the article, the wire tapping had nothing to do with capturing images of the homes; rather, it was done to improve Google's LBS -- location based services.

What's LBS? It's new technology that allows us consumers to get more accurate information at our fingertips when we log into a new app.  For example, when you go to TripAdvisor's App, if you allow it to track your location, it can send you a map showing you restaurants, parks, hotels, and music venues -- all tailored to your location.  When I go on vacation this fall, I can open up my iPad, tap on the app, and it will move with me, knowing I'm in another location, and providing me with the same instant information -- I don't have to key in the location, because the app does it for me. 

Are there privacy concerns in this?  Of course there are.  And that's ignoring Google's alleged wire tapping.  The concerns are that we give up some privacy when our smart phones know our location.  Who else knows our location?  Surely someone's finding a way to sell that information and make money -- this is called "monetization."

As I explained while recently speaking on a panel at Lipscomb University, our free Internet, and our incredibly tech savvy tools, are not truly free, even though they appear to be.  They come at a price and, as a society, we're just beginning to see what that price is: our privacy.

The lawyers at Covington & Burling have compiled a great summary of privacy bills pending before Congress.  As Congress wades through these bills, it is faced with the same tensions we all face: how much privacy are we willing to give up in exchange for the luxuries of information technology?  To protect our privacy, we may decide it's time to pay to protect ourselves, and we may begin to realize that things that seem too good to be true (an Internet without a price tag) really might be.
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