Whose Privacy Are We Protecting?

KDean75206 at SPAMaol.com KDean75206 at SPAMaol.com
Tue Aug 31 20:46:10 MDT 1999

4) Whose Privacy Are We Protecting?

Chet Dembeck, E-Commerce Times

Internet privacy, the issue that just won't seem to go away, is back and
heating up again. However, while the rhetoric may be flying, the consumer
isn't reaping any real benefits. So far, it seems that re-definitions of
"privacy" and related concepts are only giving cover to giant corporations
who don't want outsiders peering at them through the knothole in the fence.

Last week, Amazon.com announced that it will allow individuals and
companies to withhold their data from the online giant's 'Purchase
Circles,' lists that reveal the shopping habits at thousands of companies,
cities and schools. The Seattle-based company began posting the lists
earlier this month, using data from more than its 10 million Internet
customers' book, video and music orders. If nothing else, the lists were
thought to be good for a laugh.

The program revealed a wide variety of reading tastes. For instance, it
showed that in Anchorage, Alaska, one of the top selling books was Hide
Your Assets and Disappear. In Las Vegas, Nevada, Dr. Atkins' New Diet
Revolution is a big hit.

But it was the corporation lists that sparked controversy. While some found
it humorous that Citicorp employees were reading Double Your Profits in 6
Months or Less and that Nabisco workers ordered copies of Protein Power,
some companies protested, suggesting that Amazon could be tipping off their

The Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center also
failed to see the humor in Amazon's actions. They believe that if Amazon
publishes data about purchasing circles of smaller companies, they may be
easily traced back to individuals.

Ford Motor Wins Restraining Order

A separate battle reached a breaking point last week when Ford Motor Co.
won a temporary restraining order against Robert Lane, a 32-year-old
nursing student who has posted sensitive internal documents on his Web site
BlueOvalNews.com . Lane claims that the information was fed to him by
employees of the huge auto maker.

While the saga hasn't yet played out in court, Lane claims that by stopping
him from posting the sometimes embarrassing documents, Ford is interfering
with the First Amendment right of free speech. Ford counters that Lane is
guilty of copying and disseminating internal documents and unlawfully using
its blue Ford oval trademark on his Web site. Moreover, Ford alleges that
Lane solicited its employees for the information.

Not All Black And White

Some legal experts say that the First Amendment does not apply to Lane in
the way it would a journalist. Others disagree, however, saying that Lane
should be protected because his postings are helping consumers by exposing
important information that Ford wanted to suppress.

The Internet is so new that such dilemmas continue to occur daily. Yet, it
seems to me that another very old principle is coming into play: Some
companies will hide behind a battery of lawyers to protect themselves from
public scrutiny. My question to Ford is: What do you have to hide?

Shame on those who think the Lanes of world should be quieted under the
all-too-convenient claim of "privacy." Let's encourage them to dig even

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