Promise Nothing Privacy Policy

Yesterday, I watched the Daily Show on hulu.com. I only watch a few shows on Hulu, so I curious when a privacy notice popped up.  I initially thought a change in Hulu’s privacy policy would not effect me.  I was wrong.  Even though I had never entered information, Hulu was still collecting data about me.

 Hulu collects information through partnerships with social networks and tracking tools such as web beacons. Online publishers, advertisers and ad networks use  these tools to follow us around the Internet monitoring: sites visited, links clicked, searches conducted and items bought.   All of this information can be combined and shared with other websites and advertisers.

The trend towards sharing information across websites is increasing.  An article in Smartmoney noted:

 Groupon is only the latest major site to expand its rules about what the site may do with users’ “personal information” — a catch-all phrase that typically includes a user’s birth date, shopping history, location, and whatever else it can grab. Facebook has also gradually relaxed its privacy restrictions; last month, the site added technology that will automatically identify its users in photographs. Also in June, professional networking site LinkedIn gave itself the authority to use members’ recommendations for commercial purposes.

Changes to a privacy policy may seem like no big deal.  What does a privacy policy really do for you?  But a privacy policy is important.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires companies to act in accordance with their policies.  

Recently, the FTC investigated Google for violating their privacy policy.  In 2010, Google launched a social networking service called Google Buzz within Gmail. Google used the information consumers provided to Gmail to populate the social network.  Google did not ask first which violated their privacy policy.  Google settled with the FTC and has agreed to adopt a comprehensive privacy program. 

It is hoped, the privacy policy agreed to in the settlement will be a model for other Internet companies.  However it appears many companies may be going in the opposite direction.  Many companies believe the less they promise the better.

As privacy policies weaken and data collection grows, members of Congress have introduced at least five privacy-related bills this year.  But until meaningful privacy legislation is passed, kids should be careful about linking information together.  Signing up for additional services such as Hulu through Facebook Connect will marry your viewing habits with your Facebook information.  Also clicking on social widgets such as Facebook Like will connect websites visited with your Facebook profile.  
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