Internet Law conference exposes disconnect between privacy concerns and reality

Of course we would be greatly concerned about companies using or selling our private information. We’re so terribly concerned… that we’re giving it away for free.

At the Insight Internet Law conference that happened this week in downtown Vancouver, James Bond (the lawyer with Lang Michener LLP, not the spy with MI5) pointed out the strange disconnect between what people say about online privacy and what we actually do. He cited a Pew Internet Project study from November 5 showing:

  • 90 per cent of respondents said they’d be very concerned if a company sold their data to a third party.
  • 80 per cent would be worried if companies used their photos or other data in marketing campaigns.
  • 68 per cent would be very concerned if collaborative computing app companies analyzed their information and then displayed ads to them based on their actions.

Yet many of us are still giving in to the convenience of free web apps for work and staying in touch with our friends… and we typically don’t even bother reading the contract before signing up (Have you ever read the Facebook terms-of-use contract? How about iTunes?)

Bond points out that the increasing ability of governments to obtain any private information they like a la the US Patriot Act doesn’t bode well for their ability to protest behavioral tracking in the private sphere, given what they’re doing.

The only conclusion that is easily drawn here is that we can’t reasonably have an expectation of privacy on the Internet, if such a thing ever existed.