FTC should raise the bar on use of data businesses sweep up on the Internet - The Buffalo News
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FTC should raise the bar on use of data businesses sweep up on the Internet

The Federal Trade Commission must do more to protect the privacy of millions of Americans whose increased dependence on the Internet constantly exposes them to new dangers.

Identity theft is becoming more commonplace, and along with it the headaches associated with clearing one’s good name. Despite that threat, it is difficult to contemplate life without the Internet.

And that’s just the way advertisers targeting customers through websites, social media and text messages want it. More and more information is being shared voluntarily, from birth dates, birthplaces and mother’s maiden names to schools attended and even favorite songs and colors. The mosaic of someone’s life becomes clear – to their friends and to thieves lurking online.

Businesses collect data that is even more sensitive, including Social Security numbers in some cases. In the latest example of how insecure that data is, hackers infiltrated the online marketplace eBay, gaining access to the personal data of 145 million customers.

The deep concern after these invasions has caused many people to think twice about how much sharing they want to do on the Internet. That concern has prompted some social media sites to make some changes, even if reluctantly.

Facebook recently announced that it would give a privacy checkup to every one of its 1.28 billion users worldwide.

The social media giant also said it will change how it treats new users by initially setting their posts to be seen only by friends. Previously, those posts were accessible to anyone – something new users may not have realized.

Facebook has been around for 10 years and during that time has grown from a college campus experiment into an almost universal information exchange. Except nothing is free, and the company has used that information to target advertising to all those users.

Congress should do more, of course, but it comes back to the FTC to sound the alarm. Instead, the agency rang a small bell.

To say to consumers “be careful what you post online or check your privacy settings” is really a fool’s errand, as Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, said.

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