When the companies we know and trust get hacked, a piece of society's soul dies. Like returning home to a ransacked house, it is hard not to feel personally violated when your online privacy is invaded in a large scale data breach.
When hackers recently broke into JP MorganChase, they took more than sensitive financial information--they robbed us of our trust. After all, if we cannot trust one of the world's richest financial firms to protect its own assets--and our information--who can we trust?
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there have been 579 reported data breaches so far this year. Companies large and small, from Home Depot, Target and KMart, to unknown retailers have been victimized at one level or another. While consumer protection and banking laws generally provide adequate, after-the-fact, relief for those who are affected, the harsh reality is that our data remains highly unsecured.
When the vaulted CBS news magazine 60 minutes turned the spotlight on data brokers, it opened the nation's eyes to an industry which has been operating somewhat in the shadows for years. The emphasis of the story was that Big Data companies which collect, analyze and sell personal information are unregulated, and the subtext was a call for such.
Following these breaches, there should be little doubt that some kind of reasonable governmental regulation to protect the online data of average Americans is in order today. The elusive challenge has been, and continues to be, how to balance the privacy concerns of consumers with the constitutionally-protected commercial rights of companies. To this equation, technology can add the missing link, so to speak. Those web entities in the vast Internet ecosystem who are serious about respecting consumer privacy should provide them with easy, transparent choices to get off the grid. No loopholes, no slippery legalistic exceptions. Just a simple way--if we choose--to opt out of some things or everything, and to be patently protected from intrusion of any kind.
I know options exist in today's market that provide some of these features, but not all. As we move ever closer to living our lives entirely online, it would be good for industry to build in a modicum of real control for the ordinary person who wants it. But that may be too much to ask. While we have much to be thankful for when it comes to the Internet of things, respect for, and protection of, personal privacy appears not to be one of them.
Mr. Hoffman has been a legal and communications advisor to advertisers, marketers and technology companies, and has held senior legal positions at the FCC and the U.S. House of Representatives. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Communication, Culture & Technology Program.
(c) copyright 2014. Adonis E. Hoffman. All rights reserved.