Regulators in Germany and Hong Kong are continuing to pressure Google to turn over the payload data that its Street View cars collected from unsecured WiFi networks.
Faced with complaints by U.S. senators, European officials, privacy organizations, tech journalists and its own members, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today the company will roll back some of its more controversial recent changes.
Google says its analytics unit -- which provides services to outside publishers -- will no longer collect a host of information about those publishers' visitors. The search giant touts this new tool as privacy-friendly -- and that's true, but only to a limited extent, given that many outside publishers have access to the same information from their own servers. Still, the add-on could reassure users who don't want Google, specifically, to gather information about them. But Google has far more pressing privacy issues at the moment.
In an effort to police its tax laws, the state of North Carolina recently asked Amazon to turn over information about all purchases by state residents dating back to 2003. Amazon rightly objected, arguing that the government's attempt to obtain records of consumers' purchases -- including purchases of books, magazines and movies -- violates their First Amendment rights and their right to privacy.
Earlier this week, news broke that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett was attempting to subpoena the Twitter user CasablancaPA, who also authors a blog with the same name. Because the blog -- which says its mission is "Exposing the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett" -- bashes the attorney general, it initially appeared that a powerful state figure was attempting to squelch public criticism. By this afternoon, however, more information has come out about the subpoena -- and the details look even worse for Corbett than before.
At the beginning of this year, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation asked users to visit Panopticlick in order to determine how easily they could be identified based solely on their browsers. Four months and 470,161 browsers later, the EFF says it has reached a conclusion: More than eight out of 10 Web browsers, or 84%, have "unique signatures" that can be used to identify them. When browsers had Adobe Flash or Java plug-ins, 94% were "unique and trackable," according to the EFF.
Making a bad situation worse, privacy officials in Germany are demanding that Google turn over the data it collected from WiFi networks.
Google inadvertently collected payload data from WiFi networks that weren't password-protected. Late Friday, Google acknowledged the problem and said it would delete the material. Still, the incident is likely to fuel renewed concerns about whether Google poses a privacy threat.
If Facebook intends to revise its justifiably maligned "instant personalization," a new feature that shares users' names, photos, and other information with outside companies, the social networking service isn't yet ready to admit it.