Privacy and the Wireless Internet
The Internet presents many new consumer privacy issues. When people communicate through wireless devices, privacy is further threatened; trans-missions can be intercepted, and users can be located with a high degree of accuracy. Wire-less location-tracking will offer access to information about users’ activities, including where they go, when they go and the length of their stay. Over time, a compilation of this data could contribute to a substantial profile of a user’s habits.
Currently, the accepted protocol for collecting a user’s information is called an opt-in policy—i.e., the user agrees to the collection of his or her personal information in exchange for receiving targeted content. In some cases, a business installs a double opt-in policy. Double opt-in policies require the user to request information and then to confirm that request by replying to a follow-up e-mail. In theory, this practice provides greater protec-tion of privacy. An opt-out policy enables an organization to send marketing information to consumers until individual users request to be removed from the mailing list.
When an opt-in policy is used, consumers should request and expect the information that they receive from advertisers. Companies that wish to collect personal information must inform consumers as to how their information will be managed. The complicated legalese of privacy policies could be difficult to display effectively on small interfaces, making the wireless Internet more susceptible to privacy violations. For example, if a com-pany has partners or affiliates, location information might be shared with and used by these companies. As a result, consumers could find themselves bombarded with unsolicited e-mail—while they are in their cars, at the movie theater or enjoying an evening out. In addi-tion, although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has guidelines outlining a telecommunications carrier’s responsibilities for protecting a user’s privacy, marketers and vendors are not subject to the same guidelines. Third-party vendors, in most cases, will have their own privacy policies.
To date, there is no legislation that monitors the use and misuse of location-identifi-cation technology. Industry leaders and government agencies fear that such legislation could slow the development of wireless technology. Even if the government perceives a need for regulation, there are many ways to approach privacy legislation; one “compre-hensive” privacy law could target some issues, but miss others. Personal information col-lected from wireless users, for example, can be of a different nature than that collected from wired users.
To address privacy concerns, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Asso-ciation (CTIA) has presented guidelines for protecting consumer privacy. These include:
(1) Companies should alert consumers when their locations are being identified, (2) Opt-in should be the standard, meaning that companies should inform users of the services that they will receive in exchange for personal information and allow users to make edu-cated decisions, (3) Consumers should be able to access their own information and (4) The same protections should be offered to all consumers, regardless of carrier or device.
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