Privacy Worries Here to Stay
After spending most of yesterday listening either in person or via phone to the Federal Trade Commission's three-day hearing on protecting consumers in the coming decade, I can report back that, from what I've heard so far, life in the future will not be much different than it is today. The dominant consumer protection concern that emerged from Day One of the gathering? Privacy.
Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University and privacy expert, laid out the direction cyber fraud was heading.
Identity theft isn't going to end. But there's a new wrinkle: "synthetic identity theft," where cyber thieves cobble together a false identity with bits of personal information gathered from the Web. They, of course, use these false identities to rip off people, for example, in online auction settings.
Cate and at least one other speaker brought up location-based information and services. You can already find them in navigational systems in cars and even in your cellphone. As more people start to use the growing number of commercial uses for positioning technology, the concern is what happens to that data and whether consumers will be given adequate notice of how their information is being used.
Is telling consumers about privacy policies even worth it? Cate questioned the effectiveness of such notices, which, in theory, keep consumers in the know and gives them a choice to opt in or opt out. Cate quipped that no one reads privacy notices and I think he's probably right. So the question is what else can be done to give consumers control over their personal information?
While we grapple with that issue, a new generation of online scams is exploiting our fear of cyber crime. Dave Cole of cybersecurity product maker Symantec Security Response noted in passing the growing number of fake cyber security products that try to trick consumers into downloading spyware.
Much of what was mentioned yesterday was not that different than what consumers already contend with. A potentially novel twist on cyber crime stemmed from comments made by Joseph Bates of the Consumer Electronics Association.
Bates regaled the crowd with a glimpse into our Jetsons-like future, where all manner of technologies will converge in mind-blowing ways such as a refrigerator-oven hooked up to the Internet that we can order to whip up dinner via phone, PDA or computer. Such a contraption was unveiled at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show. Internet-linked ovens costing $8700 are already on the market.
Inevitably, those among us who are exceptionally paranoid began wondering what horrible concoction we might come home to if hackers gained access to our wired kitchens. Tuna aspic? Liver quiche?
Fortunately, there's no financial incentive to gross out random strangers. At least not yet.
What do you think regulators should be talking about in terms of protecting us from in the future?
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