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Privacy Is Old

Lohr says our approaches to online privacy are no good, but the experimental alternatives he mentions are at best mildly interesting, but don’t seem to be strong in any way:

- Steve Lohr, Redrawing the Route to Online Privacy

On the Internet, things get old fast. One prime candidate for the digital dustbin, it seems, is the current approach to protecting privacy on the Internet.

Lorrie Faith Cranor supports developing “privacy nudges,” like short on-screen messages that remind users of the implications of data they’re about to send.

It is an artifact of the 1990s, intended as a light-touch policy to nurture innovation in an emerging industry. And its central concept is “notice and choice,” in which Web sites post notices of their privacy policies and users can then make choices about sites they frequent and the levels of privacy they prefer.

But policy and privacy experts agree that the relentless rise of Internet data harvesting has overrun the old approach of using lengthy written notices to safeguard privacy.

These statements are rarely read, are often confusing and can’t hope to capture the complexity of modern data-handling practices. As a result, experts say, consumers typically have little meaningful choice about the online use of their personal information — whether their birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers or Web-browsing habits.

“There are essentially no defenders anymore of the pure notice-and-choice model,” said Daniel J. Weitzner, a senior policy official at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department. “It’s no longer adequate.”

We have to break with the old, and start with a redefinition of the frame we are using to think about these issues. We need to think about publicy, not privacy.

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