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Does new Government cookie policy favor publicacy over privacy? Part XIII -- Privacy-Publicacy Series

The U.S. Government is relatively quietly proposing a major change in its online privacy policy from a Government ban on Government using "cookies" to track citizens' use of U.S. Government websites to allowing the Government to track some citizen online behavior with some restrictions.

This policy shift is a quintessential example of the shift away from a default expectation of online privacy, to the default "publicacy" approach increasingly taken by many web 2.0 entities.

  • ("Publicacy" is the opposite of privacy. "Publicacy" also describes the Web 2.0 movement that seeks to have transparency largely supplant privacy online.) 

I have written about the growing tension between privacy and publicacy thirteen times this year, because I believe it is one of the biggest changes that is occurring online that average users are not aware of, but should be. 

  • (See end of this post for links to the rest of the privacy-publicacy series.)

While I am no means anti-cookie or anti-ecommerce/e-advertising, and while I believe users have a personal responsibility to try and protect their privacy online, I also believe the core problem with privacy online is that there is woefully little fair representation going on by the entities that are collecting private information on users.

  • Consumer ignorance may be bliss for publicacy interests, but it certainly is not bliss for those consumers who believe their privacy has been compromised.  

When I testified for the second time on Internet privacy this June before the House Internet Subcommittee, I emphasized the troubling and growing disconnect between online privacy users' perception that they enjoyed substantial privacy online and how little privacy they enjoy in reality. Consumer Reports had a great survey last September that proves this troubling disconnect between online privacy perception and reality.  

  • In other words, Internet users think their privacy is basically respected online, but they are largely unaware that there is rampant "unauthorized tracking" and "permission-less profiling" of them on the Internet.

My beef with the publicacy/Web 2.0 crowd is that consumers have not been meaningfully asked for their consent to use their private information. It has been very conveniently assumed.  

  • I describe this cavalier attitude as a "finders keepers, losers weepers" approach to privacy online.

My concern with the proposed change in the U.S. Government's online cookie policy is that the Government may be aligning more with the publicacy agenda of selected third parties than the privacy interests of most U.S. citizens and taxpayers. 

  • Given the legitimate and longstanding concern of citizens, that the government should not collect unnecessary private information on them, and given that the U.S. Government has vastly different responsibilities and powers than private entities, the U.S. Government should be bending over backwards to ensure that their proposed policy changes are fairly represented to consumers so that consumers can choose to protect their privacy from the Government, if they wish to do so.
  • It is very different if the U.S. Government adopts a default bias toward publicacy over privacy than if private entities do. 
  • It is also concerning that the U.S. Government's proposed policy change was put out for comment with little proactive communication to the broad citizenry and that the proposal was available for comment for only the minimum of two weeks.
    • That appears to be too quiet and too short a comment period for such a substantial change that has such far-reaching privacy implications for U.S. citizens.  

In closing, as I recommended in my House Internet privacy testimony in June, the superior approach to privacy policy is for it to be a consumer-driven, technology/competition neutral privacy policy, not the current default "finders keepers, losers weepers" publicacy approach of many leading online entities. 

  • At core, the problem with the U.S. Government's proposal to allow cookie tracking of citizens' usage of Government websites is that it continues the problematic technology-driven approach to privacy, and does not adopt the better and more effective consumer-driven approach to privacy policy.    


Privacy-Publicacy Faultline Series here:

  • Part I: The Growing Privacy-Publicacy Fault-line -- The Tension Underneath World Data Privacy Day 
  • Part II: Implications of User Location Tracking
  • Part III: Extreme Publicacy -- Does Privacy Stand a Chance?
  • Part VI: Why FTC’s Behavioral-Ad Principles Are a Big Deal
  • Part V: Privacy prevailed in Facebook's privacy-publicacy earthquake
  • Part VI: Do People Own Their Private Information Online?  
  • Part VII: Where is the line between privacy and publicacy? 
  • Part VIII: "Privacy is Over"
  • Part IX: "Interventional Targeting? "Get into people's heads" 
  • Part X: "Latest publicacy arguments against privacy"
  • Part XI: "The Web 2.0 movement is opposed to the privacy movement." 
  • Part XII: "No consumer control over the commercialization of their privacy?"