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The privacy cat is out of the bag

Gibbs wonders if we could regain privacy through transparency

Backspin By , Network World
August 17, 2012 12:02 PM ET
Gibbs

Network World - There comes a point in many situations where you have to recognize that the cat is not only out of the bag, it has stolen your wallet and your car keys and has taken the I-15 to Vegas.

And such is the case when it comes to monitoring and privacy. For example, The New York Times reports that German legislators have reopened their investigation into Facebook (do they call it "GesichtBuch" there? Probably not).

Germany's problem with Das Facebook began earlier this year when the data protection commissioner of the Hamburg Office of Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Johannes Caspar, charged that the company was illegally building a database of members' photos without their consent and started an inquiry. The inquiry was suspended in June in the belief that Facebook would mend its evil ways and change its policies.

BACKGROUND: Germany reopens proceedings against Facebook's facial recognition

Alas, the inquiry has been reopened as apparently Facebook hasn't fügte sich (toed the line), and regarding the restarted investigation the commissioner noted that the facial recognition issue has "grave implications for personal data."

At the heart of Germany's problem is Facebook's policy that users are automatically opted-in to the image archiving process and users have to explicitly opt out to avoid getting tagged and bagged. The Germans (quite reasonably in my humble opinion) think this is nicht gut and want to Schlag auf den Kopf Facebook ihre Köpfe (slap Facebook upside their heads).

This, of course, would be a minor blow to Facebook compared to their, shall we say, dismal stock price performance which as of this moment in time is $19.87, which is just over 50% of the IPO's opening price! That's a fall that, according to Bloomberg, has wiped out more than $40 billion off the company's market value since its IPO earning it the distinction of being the worst performer of all large IPOs on record. Alongside that disaster, the Germans' problems with the company's facial recognition program must look like kleines Bier (small beer).

I have to digress for a moment and ask how anyone could have been taken in by the Facebook IPO? Really? A company with no major, sustainable or clearly defined revenue stream and no big plan for future revenue growth? If you were one of the early sucke-, um, investors buying Facebook stock, I have a bridge I'm looking to sell ... it's a really nice one ...

Anyway, even though the Germans have a good ethical platform for their issues with Facebook it's zu spät (too late), because on the grand scale it's all Wasser unter der Brücke (water under the bridge). Why? Because the U.S. government in the form of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency and many other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) have been doing that and far more lo these many years.

Here in the U.S., Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's privacy subcommittee and who I greatly admire, has called for regulation of facial recognition and "called on the FBI and Facebook to change the way they use facial recognition technology." Franken has said, "I believe that we have a fundamental right to control our private information."

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