The Agenda on privacy, taped live at mesh10

There were too many highlights from mesh2010 for me to pick a single one, but among the top moments on any list was the taping of a live version of TVO’s The Agenda with the always excellent Steve Paikin. TVO producer Mike Miner and I started talking about the idea last year, because we had always wanted to have Steve come and interview someone but it never seemed to work out — so Mike suggested taping a whole show there, and after much working out of details that’s exactly what happened. It was a fantastic show, with Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, consultant Alan Sawyer, the wonderful Joseph Menn (who did one of the keynotes at mesh), David Fewer of CIPPIC and yours truly. Thanks again to Mike and Steve and the rest of the TVO team for being such a pleasure to work with and for helping us make this a reality.

Yes, HR execs check your Facebook page

Have you ever applied for a job and wondered why you didn’t get it, even though you were qualified? According to a new survey, there’s a good chance that the person doing the hiring found something about you online that they didn’t like. The survey done by Microsoft found that 70 percent of HR professionals in the U.S. have rejected a job applicant based on what they found out about that individual by searching online (that number is lower in other countries).

As part of Data Privacy Day on Thursday, Microsoft says it conducted a survey of 2,500 people that included, consumers, HR managers and recruitment professionals in the US, the UK, Germany and France, with the goal of learning more about attitudes toward online reputation and how this information can have real life consequences. The survey found that the top online factors for rejecting a job applicant are unsuitable photos/videos, concerns about a candidate’s lifestyle and inappropriate comments written by the candidate.

Please read the rest of this post at GigaOm

Group reveals (gasp!) Larry’s address

So Google is being sued by a couple who believe that their privacy was invaded when a photo of their house appeared on the Web giant’s Streetview service, which features 360-degree photos taken from a fleet of specially-equipped Volkswagen Beetles. And a privacy watchdog group has tried to bring attention to the issue by releasing a document that contains some photos of Google co-founder Larry Page’s house, as well a dissection of the likely route that he takes to work (assuming he doesn’t take the helicopter, of course). This, the group says, shows the “chilling amount of visual information” that Google has.

Does it really, though? All that the photos (one of which appeared at Valleywag some time ago) really show are the outside gate of Page’s home, with a few cars in the parking lot, and an aerial view of the top of his house and property. There’s a blurry figure who the privacy group speculates is a bodyguard drinking a pop, and then we get a closeup of the next-door neighbour’s alarm sign, which tells us they use a specific alarm service. The route to work, meanwhile, is simply a series of photos of the intersections that the group feels might mimic the path Larry may or may not take to the Google campus.

Continue reading

Judge to YouTube: Cough up those IPs

In the long-running Viacom vs. YouTube case — one that falls into the “desperately trying not to adapt” category — a judge has ruled that the Google-owned video site has to turn over a record of every user who has ever watched a YouTube video, either on the site or embedded in another site (a database that the judge’s ruling estimates would amount to 12 terabytes). Viacom is apparently trying to prove that copyright-infringing video clips from its shows are among the most popular content in the YouTube universe, and therefore YouTube should have to pay more in damages as a result of the infringement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation makes a fairly persuasive argument that the judge’s order is a legal error, based on a U.S. law (the Videotape Privacy Protection Act, believe it or not) that prevents the publication of information about which videotapes a customer has rented. Unfortunately, Google’s own legal arguments appear to have worked against the company this time: its data-retention policies are based on the idea that IP addresses aren’t really personal data because they aren’t attached specifically to a single person, and in his decision the judge specifically quotes Google’s view that “in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot [identify a user].”

As the EFF notes in its discussion of the issue, the AOL privacy breach of a couple of years ago is ample evidence that an IP address and some other user information can be used to quite easily track down individual users. Is that what Viacom has in mind — and if so, are individual lawsuits a la the RIAA the next thing on the agenda? If so, then the judge’s decision effectively emasculates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is supposed to protect hosting companies if they abide by takedown requests. Mike Arrington says the judge is “a moron.”

Facebook blocks Google, for your own good

The “whose data is it anyway” wars seem to have flared up again, judging by what’s going on with Google and Facebook over the data-sharing issue: Facebook has blocked Google’s new Google Connect feature from pulling your “social graph” data out of Facebook. But it’s not because Facebook recently launched a competing feature called Friend Connect, of course — why would you think that? No, it’s because Facebook is concerned about protecting your privacy.

As Mike Arrington notes in another post, this is a pretty flimsy argument at best. Facebook says that it’s worried that the information about you and your profile will somehow go astray during its journey through Google’s connect feature to some third-party site, and that you can’t disconnect that third-party site from within Facebook — which is true. But Google notes that it gives Google Connect users complete control over which sites see their info, so that isn’t a problem.

Robert Scoble has a post up that seems to argue that Facebook is right and Mike is wrong — a debate that continues in the comments on Arrington’s post — but to be honest I lost track of what Scoble’s argument actually was somewhere in there. To me it seems obvious that I should have the ability to move data that is attached to my profile (photos, phone numbers, addresses, emails, etc.) to some other site — in a way that didn’t involve screen-scraping.

If those sites were connected somehow so that the data could be updated in both places at once, so much the better. I don’t particularly care whether it’s Google’s OpenSocial or Google’s Connect, or Facebook’s Friend Connect, or whatever the hell MySpace’s thing is called — or whether it’s through some agreed-upon standard that everyone adheres to, like RSS or HTML. It seems obvious that while everyone is saying they want to be open, they still want to control my data. Umair Haque says it’s more proof that Facebook is fundamentally evil.