The Obama Administration has recently called for a web privacy “Bill of Rights” to prevent firms from collecting personal data for the purpose of selling that data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal reported in a multipage article today the many iPhone and Android applications, especially some of the most popular, routinely provide personally identifiable demographic information to third party advertising services including location, age, gender, sexual orientation and the like.
In order to provide this information to advertisers, businesses and consumers must first provide the information online by use of software, often provided for free. It is unreasonable and naïve to expect that Google provides its analytics package for free for the sole benefit of the business user. Google is using the information they collect to build their own business. In the same way, firms that provide free applications for the mobile market use the data they collect to generate revenue.
Any attempt to regulate the internet domestically will undoubtedly only drive content and application providers offshore. It is dangerous and unwise to let government decide who can collect and share what information and this type of content control can be abused far more insidiously by government than by private enterprise. I would never share any of my firm’s website data by utilizing free analytics tools, but it should be my choice to do so. Caveat emptor. Both businesses and consumers need to be vigilant and take reasonable precautions in their use of web sites. There is no free lunch.