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Scorecard grades tech companies’ online privacy protection efforts

We trust our information with companies every day, but online privacy protection may not be their highest priority.

Some of the most widely-used tech companies in the world do a miserable job of protecting users’ online privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has gathered data on the privacy protection efforts practiced by organizations like WordPress, Apple, Comcast and others (many of whom have also been victims of data security breaches recently) for its annual “report card.” Then it awarded stars to the companies as if they were hotels.

The results are abysmal for anyone who still thinks that corporate behemoths have their users’ best interests at heart.

Stars were given based on how well a company performed in various categories. Out of 18 companies measured, only two passed with flying colors in all six categories: Twitter and internet service provider Sonic.net. The rest scored poorly. Facebook earned 3 out of 6 starsApple and AT&T scored one star and Verizon struck out with zeroes across the board. If this were a real report card, most of these companies would have been expelled.

One category assesses whether these businesses enforce transparencyor the ease with which you can access and understand the data that they are collecting on you. Another category judges how much of your information they share, when requested, with the government. Although LinkedIn and—surprisingly—Google performed well in this area, social networks like FourSquare, Facebook, and MySpace came up short

Yahoo recently agreed to purchase Tumblr for the very purpose of aggregating more of Tumblr-users’ data. According to the report card, Yahoo makes little effort to protect your privacy, and Tumblr isn’t much better.

Paying attention to online privacy protection is like weeding your garden. If you don’t take some time to do it early in the Spring, you’ll spend the rest of the year unsuccessfully trying to undo the consequences.

John Sileo is an online privacy protection expert and professional speaker on building digital trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Are Millennials ignoring online privacy protection?

The Millennial generation tends to have a lax approach to online privacy protection – and it might put all of our security in jeopardy.

Those in their teens, 20s and early 30s – the “Millennials” – have widely prompted discussions as they enter and redefine the modern workplace. Recent information gives us a more in-focus picture of the general operating philosophy of this age group when it comes to handing out personal information over the internet. It’s been found that a devil-may-care attitude is much too prevalent.

A survey from the University of South California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future revealed that more than half of the Millennials it questioned would willingly give their personal information to companies in exchange for some sort of coupon or incentive. And then a disconnect occurs because the same study interestingly showed that 70 percent of those same Millennials believed their personal data should be kept private.

Perhaps the young Millennials simply don’t have enough experience to understand why giving away their personal information is so detrimental. The older Millennials, however, choose to ignore that their loose surfing, online buying and phone habits leave behind a digital footprint. They disregard that their identity and their online privacy is a type of currency, and the more they squander it now, the less they have later. And all the while, Facebook and other social networks are all too willing to profit from this data.

This isn’t to say that other generations were impervious to making bad decisions in the folly of youth. They just weren’t made in the online world we now know. How much easier it was when our bad decisions were wrapped in privacy! We have to remember, too, that online privacy protection is not the onus of just one group of people. It’s up to all of us to ensure that we’re not putting ourselves in danger through our digital interactions.

John Sileo is an online privacy protection expert and in-demand speaker on digital reputation, cyber security and online asset protection. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Online privacy alert: Who’s reading your Gmail? It might be the FBI

Everybody knows that online privacy is in the eye of the beholder. Just as the government is working toward lessening attacks on our internet from other countries, the FBI is stepping up its game on the home front – and it wants to look at your Gmail when you send it.

So much of preventing the unwanted use of your data is simply knowing that you are being watched online by others. The FBI already has the ability to check copies of messages sent through Gmail and other providers after the fact, but it wants more: the chance to monitor such interactions as they are happening. Andrew Weissmann, the organization’s general counsel, has asserted that live online services of many different kinds are being used to perpetrate illegal purposes, requiring more surveillance. And the feds are not stopping there, also championing to gain access to messages sent on iPhones.

While it’s obviously good to keep an eye on the bad guys, businesses and individuals need to be aware that their information could be under scrutiny. Many are careless with the kinds of data they share with others, and this should serve as a reminder that the things you send to others could be viewed at a later date. Online privacy protection requires a strong understanding of the way this information gets shared, just as it necessitates caution in the way we represent ourselves and communicate on the web.

As the capabilities of both the government and the criminals they fight expand, it may take an online privacy expert to help confused users navigate these sometimes treacherous new waters while keeping themselves afloat.

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on security, identity and reputation protection. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Obama Finally Takes Charge on Cyber Security with Executive Order

It took getting bit in public, but the President has finally taken a firm stance on online privacy protection with a brand new initiative.

Only weeks ago cyber hackers attacked the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a bevy of massive corporate behemoths. Taking over their systems was a bit like taking candy from a candy factory (China manufacturers much of the security infrastructure that’s used to keep the bad guys out – so there are lots of back doors when they want to dip into the cookie jar). 

In the past, certain pieces of proposed anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and CISPA have come under fire for being too restrictive and allowing private entities too much access to personal data. President Obama has expressed disapproval for those acts in the past, and in his State of the Union address Tuesday, he finally announced a cyber security executive order aimed at securing America’s infrastructure. Thank the gods of security that he is finally taking charge.

“We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets,” Obama said. He also urged Congress to pass legislation to enforce security measures, saying it must be a bipartisan effort.  

The order calls for greater dissemination of cyber threat info, consultation of privacy experts, and an identification of which sectors are at greatest risk of potential data security breaches. Another key section asserts that privacy and civil liberties will be taken into consideration by the agencies involved. 

In doing this, the President has publicly acknowledged the dangers that threaten anyone who uses the internet, and the steps we need to take to fight against them. The cat is out of the bag (officially), though it escaped years ago for those of us who watch this sort of thing. As usual, it took getting stung where it counts (our news agencies) before anyone was willing to act on the threat.

Hopefully, this will come as a wake-up call to all those still in the dark about the realities of digital identity theft. It’s a real threat that poses risks not just on an individual level, but on a global scale as well.

Businesses should read the executive order online and then talk to a data security and online privacy expert to learn more about how they can safeguard their interests. Staying up-to-date on the latest regulations is crucial to maintaining robust security – after all, you can’t play the game if you don’t know the rules. 

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on cyber security and online privacy. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.