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Who benefits from the complicated matter of privacy policies?


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Google’s new privacy policy is expected to take effect this week, and has stirred up controversy from states’ attorneys general to governments around the globe

In a nutshell, the privacy policy – which Google has aggressively notified consumers of, it seems to me – allows it to share information across products from YouTube to search engines to gmail.   That means our Internet activity can be more efficiently analyzed and mined to target us with ads and promotions.  Here’s a good primer from NPR and here is Google’s own explanation which starts out “We’re getting rid of over 60 privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read.”  That page also includes an FAQ and advice for those who wish to restrict monitoring of activity. 

Anyway, the whole tempest got me to thinking about the vast army of lawyers, consultants, focus group analysts, web designers and others involved with the entire “privacy policy industry” that surrounds not only Internet sites but health care organizations, financial services institutions, brick-and-mortar merchants (think grocery, drug and big-box loyalty cards) and really just about any other consumer transation these days.

Coping articles about how to decipher, navigate and fortify oneself against exposure are always welcome – a sort of 21st century expansion of the identity theft caveats that were legion in the last decade or so of the 20th century.  But I don’t recall seeing too many takes on the professionals and firms that actually make money from designing, implementing, monitoring, communicating and othewise seeing to the privacy policies at millions of business entities.

Check out this Feb. 29 press release from the Cybersecurity Credentials Collaborative (C3) which just formed itself at an industry conference.  Who knew there were trade groups like the International Association of Privacy Professionals - which is holding a Global Privacy Summit next week in Washington, D.C. ?  Talk about perfect timing; you should review the speakers, sponsors and exhibitors lists on the summit website for local ties.  And that’s just one organization – the C3 includes a number of other entities which you can similarly mine for regional connections. 

Obviously if you have big online merchants or consumer goods firms in your area, or health care systems, IT companies, etc., the question of privacy policies is a timely one and might lead to interesting features about privacy dilemmas, new job categories involving the devleopment, oversight of and compliance with privacy policies, and other state-of-the-art business concerns.

Another avenue to explore: Privacy as a legal specialty.  It seems as though most household name digital media companies, from Facebook to Netflix to of course Google, are laboring under class aciton suits related to privacy policies.  Parents are clamoring to see their kids’ text messages, and I heard an expert on CNN say that any consumer would need a court order to view his or her own texts, let alone a child or spouse’s.   For those who cover telecomm industries, what a fascinating topic.

No doubt there are privacy tort specialists springing up all over the place.  And to serve or needle companies that maintain sensitive material, the Document Retention and Privacy Policy specialty also seems to be on the rise.  No matter what beat or industry or sector you cover, I bet you can find a developing privacy issue and the consultant somewhere who’s making a new kind of living at promoting or fighting it.


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