Should Internet Privacy Remain Unregulated?

Earlier this week, privacy advocates testified before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and asked it to stop Web sites from tracking and compiling the visits of their users.

Additionally, these advocates demanded that the FTC devise a way to protect Web surfers from unwanted intrusions on their privacy like the one that RealNetworks, Inc. admitted to.

Last week, RealNetworks informed the world that it had been gathering information on what music its users were downloading without their permission.

This revelation heated up the already boiling controversy surrounding consumer profiling, which had prompted the FTC and the Department of Commerce to convene a day long consumer privacy conference.

After being caught with its hand in the cookie jar, RealNetworks said that it is installing a new safeguard to allow users of its RealJukebox and other downloadable software programs to give their consent to having their listening habits monitored.

Sony Leaks E-Mail Addresses

As if the RealNetworks fiasco was not enough to raise the hackles of privacy advocates, Sony Music Entertainment came up with a doozy of their own last week.

InfoBeat, a free Internet newsletter owned by the Japanese conglomerate, had been allowing the e-mail addresses of its subscribers to be disclosed to advertisers without their permission.

Following in the footsteps of RealNetworks, Sony announced Friday that the problem had been fixed.

Online Privacy Alliance Pushes For Self-Regulation

At the same time, the Online Privacy Alliance, a coalition of about 90 global companies and associations, is trying to convince the FTC that there is no need for government regulations to protect users’ online privacy rights.

Instead, the alliance contends that the best way to protect consumers is by allowing the industry to regulate itself.

Put Some Stiff Penalties In Place

While self-regulation sounds good in theory, I think there have already been too many violations of users’ privacy rights to convince me that the industry is really serious about policing itself.

In fact, I’d like to see the FCC put some stiff penalties in place for such “mistakes” and then let the industry help it collect the money.

Currently, since there is no punishment being meted out — because there are no such laws — a lame “we’re sorry” is all consumers can expect from companies that deliberately spy on them.

If the industry is really serious about self-regulation, then let’s see it slap a six-figure fine on RealNetworks and divide the money among the users whose privacy has been breached.

Slim And None

Of course, the chances of that happening are slim and none. Therefore, I think it is about time the FCC got into the business of regulating Internet privacy for the sake of its users.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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