Privacy rights group are worried about all of the web tracking that is taking place and that more tracking is being developed. Riva Richmond talks about the concerns in today's article.
SEPTEMBER 29, 2008
We Know Where You Are
With new software, Web sites can tell what city a visitor is coming from. That can be useful information.
By RIVA RICHMOND
The freewheeling, borderless Internet has long allowed businesses to think globally. Now a growing number of companies are using Web technology to help them act locally.
Companies increasingly want to know where visitors to their Web sites are located so they can better serve them -- by, for example, ushering them to pages in their native language or offering them information, promotions or products pertinent to the local area. Other firms need to comply with laws or contracts that require they steer clear of customers in certain states or countries, while still others are seeking to thwart online criminals trying to impersonate clients.
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To accomplish these goals, companies are erecting virtual borders with geolocation software, which analyzes a visiting computer's numerical Internet Protocol address to get a read on that Web user's city location. Armed with this information, businesses can usher people to appropriate Web pages or stop them from accessing an account or service.
Privacy-rights advocates consider IP addresses personally identifiable information, and they are concerned about systems that retain this data because of the potential for unwelcome scrutiny of people's Web-use habits. But the major geolocation companies say they don't track Web usage by IP address; rather, they simply maintain databases of IP addresses and their associated geographic locations.
The technology isn't perfect -- some companies and Internet-service providers, including Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, use IP addresses that correspond to their headquarters' locations, not those of their end users. And some people mask their IP addresses for privacy reasons. But with accuracy rates in the low-to-high-90% range, geolocation technology is bringing a new level of maturity to the Internet -- delivering more sophistication and function to Web sites, enabling new businesses to operate online and enhancing Internet security.
With 1.2 billion people around the globe now connected, "the Internet is starting to reflect the world," with its many languages, competing interests and rules and regulations, says John Yunker, president and chief analyst at San Diego consulting firm Byte Level Research LLC. "Those boundaries are coming back," he says, and geolocation is the "air-traffic control" that lets companies route travelers.
Consider Ace Hardware, a cooperative of more than 4,600 dealer-owned hardware stores that overhauled its Web site in February 2007. Using geolocation software from Digital Element, a unit of Norcross, Va.-based Digital Envoy Inc., Ace now gives Web-site visitors a list of stores within a 30-mile radius of their location. A click takes visitors to a page showing the stores plotted on a Google map, and from there, they can drill down to the various stores' Web sites for information such as hours of operation and driving directions.
Dana Kevish, Ace's e-commerce marketing manager, says geolocation is important to Ace because some 75% of online sales go through local stores -- where Ace will ship products free -- and 30% of customers who pick up an online order make an additional purchase in the store. Having geolocation capabilities "helped us create a connection between the consumers and the local store," she says.
Ace plans to expand its use of the technology this winter by directing Web visitors to one of five or six different home pages, depending on their location. People in cold climates will see a home page featuring snowblowers, for example, while Floridians might see patio furniture.
Denver-based news site Examiner.com, meanwhile, uses software from Quova Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., to display geographically targeted news and advertising to more than two million monthly visitors from 57 local U.S. markets. A Web user's IP address determines the edition that is displayed, and advertisers can pick the editions in which they want their ads to appear.
Other companies are using geolocation to gauge the impact of ad campaigns, even offline ones. For instance, a spike in Web-site visits from New Yorkers following a series of ads in New York newspapers would suggest a successful campaign.
Still, geolocation technology won't pinpoint Web visitors' locations beyond the city level, which won't satisfy advertisers seeking to target potential customers by neighborhood or street. "That might be the next forefront people might try to push toward," says Dane Walther, director of custom engineering at Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai Technologies Inc., which has a geolocation product. "There's certainly interest from marketers, who always want to get as detailed, as local as they can."
For Some, a Lifeline
Geolocation technology allows companies to use the Internet as a distribution channel when contracts or laws restrict them from doing business in certain geographic locations.
Major League Baseball's Internet arm, MLB Advanced Media LP, has used software from Quova to build a $160 million paid-subscription business streaming live baseball games to fans.
Because each team has sold the broadcast rights to games in its local markets, MLB.com is permitted to stream games only to people living outside of the local markets of the teams playing. To confirm customers' locations, MLB.com uses Quova software in addition to information such as shipping addresses from past product purchases and addresses tied to credit cards.
MLB.com says it errs on the side of caution, denying about 15% of streaming requests it gets. While that means it sometimes blocks legitimate users, the error rate is perhaps 1% or 2%, and those people can call to request access, says MLB Advanced Media's chief executive, Bob Bowman.
"Fortunately for us, there are lots of fans that don't live in the town of the club they cheer," says Mr. Bowman, who estimates they amount to about half of each team's fans.
Ultimate Blackjack Tour LLC of Las Vegas is another company that uses geolocation software from Quova to help weed out certain would-be customers. The company runs a subscription-based business in which people compete for prizes by playing blackjack and poker online. It can sell the service only to people in the 38 states that allow sweepstakes; visitors from the other 12 states must get a version of the product without prizes.
The accuracy of the information is vital to Ultimate Blackjack Tour because mistakes could mean fines by state governments and black eyes for business partners. Although looking at IP addresses is "not the end-all solution," it is an automated and cost-effective first line of defense, says Brett Calapp, Ultimate Blackjack Tour's president. To improve accuracy, the company also examines the type of Internet connections its customers are using and whether they have been routed through a proxy server that might be masking their location.
For financial-services and e-commerce companies, geolocation has proved to be a valuable tool in their 24-hour battle against fraud. The technology allows them to flag activity if someone in, say, Russia tries to access an account or use a credit card of a customer who lives in Ohio. They can block the transaction or ask a security question to give the Ohioan access in case he is visiting Moscow.
For e-commerce sites, the goal is threefold: to reduce fraud, reject as few legitimate orders as possible and minimize costly manual reviews of transactions.
Marie Alexander, Quova's chief executive, says one manufacturer told her that it has found a transaction to be fraudulent in 73% of cases where the state in the credit-card billing address doesn't match the state associated with the IP address. "It's a huge savings to pull those [transactions] out," she says.Ms. Richmond is a writer in New York. She can be reached at email@example.com.
It is almost a given situation that most people do not know that privacy rights when they are online. Know the problem is that the laws are already outdated even though they were put into the fact in the year 2000. But that is what Rahul Srinivas contends in his new article below. Be sure to check out the website http://www.theexpertoneverything.com for Edward David Gils Novel The Expert On Everything Privacy Doesnt Exist Anymore.
Of Privacy Laws and the Lack of Them
Rahul Srinivas, Sep 26, 2008 1643 hrs IST
82% of US netizens are worried about their credit card numbers being stolen; 72% think their online activities are being tracked by companies
According to a recent poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in the US, most US citizens are extremely concerned about their online privacy and are keen to know what exactly is being done with their personal information online. As much as 82% of the people are worried about their credit card numbers being stolen online --while another 72% think their online activities are being tracked by companies.
The telephonic survey conducted recently has brought to light several concerns and misconceptions held by the public in the US regarding privacy laws. Some glaring examples include the fact that a large percentage of US citizens (incorrectly) think their consent is needed for companies to USE their personal information. While others think, companies actually need a court order to be able to track your activities online -- which happens to be completely untrue.
While this kind of corporate consumer behavior tracking has been a hotly debated issue over the years in the US, India is just seeing a rise in awareness amongst its netizens about their online privacy rights. Currently, with little or no privacy laws governing cyberspace in India, the average Internet user is left exposed to nefarious practices by unscrupulous companies who have gained notoriety in selling off personal information to foreign companies in need of online browsing habits.
If that was not all, our very own government is planning to monitor our online activities. Thanks to a bunch of terrorists who decided to use e-mails as a medium to send their messages across. Do you really think it is right on the part of the government to have the right to see what you're doing online? Well, 47 percent of our readers thought it's OK! More on that story here.
Coming back to the US survey reports, here are some interesting statistics:
As much as 35% of the respondents used an alternate e-mail address to avoid providing real information to these companies. 26% of people surveyed use software that helped them hide their identity while another 25% provided fake information to websites that ask for personal information. Nice tactic. I do think providing fake information is a common practice here in India as well.
The survey has managed to highlight one common sentiment amongst Americans; they are increasingly demanding more control over their personal information being collected by companies.
In a related story, two of the major Internet service providers in the US, Verizon and AT&T have recently pledged not to track their customers unless they get an explicit permission to do so.
India seems to be still in its infancy when it comes to cyber laws. Most of us are grossly unware of our rights as far as online privacy laws are concerned. While most Indian companies have vendor-specific privacy policies, it is high time that our legal system implements laws that are uniformly applicable to all relevant industries. In our judiciary, the only reference to online privacy is seen in the IT Act of 2000, where Chapter XI, Section 72 has the following excerpt:
"Penalty for breach of confidentiality and privacy states that any person who secures any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material without prior consent and discloses the information to a third party is punishable under the Act. The punishment ranges from imprisonment or a fine which may extend to Rs. 100,000 or both."
That is as vague as it could be. And considering, this was implemented in 2000, it's past time our cyber-laws got a firmware update.
3. Support A Campaign and Lose Your Privacy.
I fully agree with Shaun Dakin when he proposes a National Political Do Not Contact Registry. It has come to the point where I do not answer the phone this time of year. He made some very valid points in regards to our lack of privacy.
Support a campaign and lose your privacy
Posted by Shaun Dakin September 16, 2008 05:05AM Categories: Opinion
Dakin is chief executive and founder of Citizens for Civil Discourse, a nonprofit group that has launched the National Political Do Not Contact Registry at StopPoliticalCalls.org.
While John McCain and Barack Obama have plenty to fight about, there is at least one thing that they agree on: Voters who interact with their campaigns have no privacy rights.
What does this mean?
It's simple: Voters do not have the right to opt out of unwanted campaign communications, either online or off-line. Voters don't have the right to decide who will contact them or how they will be contacted by the presidential campaigns.
This invasion of the voters' privacy is bipartisan. Republicans do it. Democrats do it. Heck, even Libertarians do it.
Last week, I received an e-mail from the Obama campaign that had the subject line: "Your Neighbors." Intrigued, I opened the message and learned that the campaign was launching a sophisticated program called "Neighbor-to-Neighbor" that makes "it easier than ever to connect with potential supporters in your community by phone or door-to-door." It continues: "Neighbor-to-Neighbor gives you the option to make phone calls or knock on doors -- the choice is yours."
The choice may be yours, but what about your neighbors, who may not want you to bother them at their homes?
This new program is both tech-cool and privacy-rights-scary. When I clicked through to myBarackObama.com, I was able to create "walk lists" using a Google map showing me exactly where potential Obama supporters near me live. The Web site provided the names, addresses and phone numbers of these targeted neighbors and offered a prompt for printing out the list. The last step? Log back in and record the results of your "door-to-door" conversations with voters.
I don't know about you, but I do not want my neighbors knocking on my door asking me whom I'm going to vote for. I certainly do not want my name, address and phone number printed on a Google map for the world to see. And, without a doubt, I do not want anyone calling me at home during dinner.
This is an invasion of privacy, because these voters never explicitly gave their permission to have themselves targeted in a database that invites their neighbors to walk "door to door" to try to persuade them to vote for a particular candidate.
When I tried to opt out of this tool, I learned that while I could opt out of campaign e-mail spam, there was no way that I could quickly, securely and comprehensively opt out of voter communications that I do not want to receive.
John McCain's Web site is much the same: It provides no mechanism for voters to opt out of unwanted communications other than e-mail.
What can be done?
As a spokesperson for millions of voters inundated by political campaigns, I have testified this year before the Senate Rules Committee in support of the Robocall Privacy Act. Our members report receiving as many as 15 robocalls a day during election season. Mothers have their babies awakened from naps. Night-shift workers who sleep during the day can't get the rest they need. Seniors and others fear that a health emergency could occur while their phone is tied up.
While commercial organizations are required by law to respect the privacy rights of consumers, politicians at the federal level and in all but a few states have exempted themselves from these laws. More than 160 million phone numbers have been placed on the National Do Not Call Registry, which requires commercial organizations to stop calling consumers within 30 days of those consumers listing their numbers. Political campaigns will call many of those 160 million numbers with impunity this fall. Why should commercial companies be required by law to stop invading the privacy of potential customers while politicians are allowed to do whatever they wish to reach potential voters?
To answer this question, candidates usually cite the First Amendment -- the right to speak freely as part of the our nation's vital democratic process. That might be a legitimate criticism of an outright ban but not of a system in which voters are given the choice to opt out of unwelcome communications.
Thus, the real reason for their personal exemptions is obvious: Politicians write the laws, and politicians like regulation only when it applies to someone else.
The time has come for a Voter Privacy Bill of Rights built on a single, straightforward principle: Voters should have the right to opt out of all direct political communications that they do not want to receive. Period.
Interesting article in regards to Intellectual Property Rights and the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
EFF, Public Knowledge sue US gov't over secret IP pact
Grant Gross , IDG News Service, 09/18/2008
Two digital rights advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in an attempt to get the office to turn over information about a secret international treaty being negotiated to step up cross-border enforcement of copyright and piracy laws.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge filed the lawsuit Wednesday after USTR ignored their repeated requests to turn over information about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
ACTA could include an agreement for the U.S., Canada, the European Commission and other nations that are part of the talks to enforce each other's intellectual-property (IP) laws, with residents of each country subject to criminal charges when violating the IP laws of another country, according to a supposed ACTA discussion paper posted on Wikileaks.org in May.
The document posted on Wikileaks also talks about increasing border searches in an effort to find counterfeit goods, encouraging ISPs (Internet service providers) to remove online material that infringes copyrights and increased cooperation in destroying infringing goods and the equipment used to make them. The full text of the ACTA has not been released, despite requests by EFF and Public Knowledge, as well as Canadian groups. Wikileaks is a site that posts anonymous submissions of sensitive documents.
"ACTA raises serious concerns for citizens' civil liberties and privacy rights," EFF international policy director Gwen Hinze said in a statement. "This treaty could potentially change the way your computer is searched at the border or spark new invasive monitoring from your ISP. People need to see the full text of ACTA now, so that they can evaluate its impact on their lives and express that opinion to their political leaders. Instead, the USTR is keeping us in the dark while talks go on behind closed doors."
A USTR spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
In the lawsuit, Public Knowledge and EFF say the trade agreement's documents are subject to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which requires U.S. agencies to turn over most documents, with some exceptions, when a U.S. resident requests them.
The two groups filed an FOIA request in June, then clarified the request two weeks later. USTR did not respond after that, and in August, a lawyer for the two groups tried to reach a USTR official dealing with the FOIA request, but a voice message was not returned.
ACTA is being negotiated as an executive agreement, not a treaty, meaning it wouldn't be subject to congressional scrutiny and approval, said Art Brodsky, Public Knowledge's communications director.
"This is an unusual situation," he said. "At this point, we're trying to figure out what's going on. The other side is clearly working with USTR. USTR will have public meetings and listen to us, but won't show us what's going on."
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced plans last October to negotiate the trade agreement. USTR posted a notice asking for public comments on ACTA in February, but the only documentation included in that request was a one-and-a-half page
Nevertheless, several groups filed comments about ACTA. The Business Software Alliance, a trade group representing large software vendors, said it "strongly supports USTR's efforts to address counterfeiting and piracy through a plurilateral trade agreement."
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed comments offering suggestions for the trade agreement. Among its recommendations: Countries should allow investigators to treat piracy like organized crime, giving IP enforcement efforts additional resources used to fight organized crime. The RIAA also wants laws requiring ISPs to remove infringing materials posted by subscribers, the trade group said in its comments.
The Motion Picture Association of America also filed comments supporting ACTA and offering suggestions.
Other countries involved in the ACTA talks are Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Huge issues hang on 2008 election
It is time for all Americans to think seriously about the issues and problems facing our country and stop listening to the media uproar around personalities and smear tactics on all sides of the political spectrum.
There are a few short weeks before we all head to the polls on November 4th. During this time we owe it to our country to be involved, engaged and curious when researching the issues and the candidates. Competency and explicit, well reasoned plans should be the basis for our final decision.
To listen, read and watch main stream media outlets these days it seems we have all but forgotten: how 9/11 had NOTHING to do with Iraq; how the current administration cherry picked intelligence to find a basis for invading Iraq; how much of our country's treasury and over 4,100 lives of our brave volunteer military have been lost due to poor planning, not enough or effective body armor, not enough up-armored fighting vehicles, not enough Arab-speaking military linguists (over 26 discharged for "don't ask don't tell"); how many private contractors have received no-bid contracts, overcharged the US government and are accountable to NO ONE; the lack of care and support, both mental and physical for our wounded veterans when they return, [Abu Ghraib] and the abuse and torture endured there; Guantanamo Bay where "enemy combatants" are held without charge indefinitely; almost anything about Afghanistan; how cronyism and loyalty in the current administration directly lead to the horrific disaster in the wake of Katrina; the bail-out of major banking institutions including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac due to decreased regulation, greed and creative accounting; skyrocketing energy costs and a flailing economy related in no small part to the 4 billion dollars a month the government is spending in Iraq and Afghanistan; GLOBAL WARMING and the responsibility we all share in conserving and protecting our planet; research and development of alternative energies and decreased reliance on all fossil fuels; how we still haven't secured our nation's chemical, nuclear and biological plants against attacks SEVEN years after 9/11; how our privacy and civil rights have been systematically eroded in the name of "security," and finally that not one person in a position of power or policy has been held accountable or responsible for the debacle they have created.
This long, albeit severely edited list of real problems and issues makes "lipstick" remarks seem petty and ridiculous to me.
Please realize more than the next four years hangs in the balance. The next President will most certainly be nominating at least one Justice to the Supreme Court and they may once again be revisiting privacy rights, free speech and Roe v. Wade. Separation of church and state and civil rights will also be important topics for both the Congress and the courts.
Our country's reputation around the world has been damaged by the reckless policies and the unapologetic arrogance of the current administration. We no longer can claim moral authority over anyone and have almost all but forgotten about a tried and trusted tool called DIPLOMACY.
Many of our problems will not be solved by a new administration but we must all resolve to be active in the political process. The next President may well ask us to sacrifice or shoulder more personal responsibility but Americans have always risen to the challenges put forth by our leaders.
Our democracy is a living treasure which must be tended by all its citizens. Get out in your community, talk to your neighbors and friends, read and research all you can find and when you step up to your ballot on November 4th you will be prepared to cast your vote for the most qualified, inspired and competent candidates. Our future and the future of our children, grandchildren, and the very earth depend upon YOUR involvement.
Marta K. Herman