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Washington DC Feb 15-19.

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Online privacy – when did we notice it was gone?

We should not accept that we are the product, always sharable.  From Amazon Sidewalk bandwidth sharing to always listening devices to smart assistants saving us from typing to recommendation engines (“If you liked this…”). The assumption derived from our behavior with new tech innovations? We have bought in – unless we go to ridiculous lengths to avoid having our data and information used (or abused) online. Consider ways in which algorithms still make mistakes that the individual referenced cannot easily correct.

Your emails are read and tracked by marketers. Did you know there are email tracking pixels (or a single pixel) buried in your email header or footer? That these invisible pixels enable the firm that sent you the message to know what type of device you used to open the email, when it was open and for how long, whether it was reopened, or any links were clicked?  Of course you knew this if you do any email marketing. And you may have selected a Gmail setting long ago to ask before displaying images (aka ads). So why is this interesting now?  Because in iOS 15, Apple will offer an option for users to prevent it in Apple Mail. And marketers are, to say the least, worried -- and fishing around for a new marketing strategy to verify effectiveness of email campaigns.

Data privacy is becoming an issue at the federal level. Watch the European GDPR initiatives to enable consumers to take more ownership of their own data. This data privacy set of requirements forced US companies doing business in Europe to change their processes to comply. The US has not kept pace. But the Federal Trade Commission has published guidelines for consumers to help them protect their privacy online, including opting out of marketing processes.  Many bills at the state level have been filed, although most of these bills were not enacted, perhaps due to intense lobbying by business groups. 

Governments cannot protect our data privacy -- only we can. You might not remember the longest running ad in history, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires. There should be a similar campaign for data privacy – only you can protect your own data privacy. Consider that only 44% of consumers trust their healthcare providers and financial services to protect their data -- with every other industry trusted far less.  A recent survey showed that consumers may be less willing to use products and services from companies that use their data for their own benefit. Maybe those who serve consumers should help them by recommending the Consumer Reports recommended advice steps -- it's worth a look.


Laurie you told me earlier this year that controlling online privacy is too late, that we had traded our sovereignty for free software. And that "Any attempt to change that business model is half-hearted. Likewise attempts at oversight by tech firms is a nom-starter. They do not want to do it."  So why are you now getting now getting nervous? Too much water under the bridge? I believe that the Europeans are more aware of this issue and the the US could learn from their approach to Internet privacy. Digital Sovereignty should be emphasized more and be a concern of every Internet user. 


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