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Q&A: Cisco privacy chief Dennedy says good privacy practices can improve bottom line

By Byron V. Acohido

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared that privacy “is no longer a social norm” in 2010, he was merely parroting a corporate imperative that Google had long since established.

That same year, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly admitted that Google’s privacy policy was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” Indeed, the privacy of any consumer who spends any time on the Internet is owned several times over by the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn and other media companies and cloud service providers.

Canada and Europe require corporations to give individuals the clear choice to “opt in” to any services that collect behavioral data useful for profiling an individual. But in the USA,  America’s tech and media behemoths have established ground rules that essentially deprive consumers of long-held, hard-won notions of privacy shaped over two World Wars, namely the right to be left alone.

Related article: Parents sue to stop companies from ‘kid-spying’

For the most part, American consumers have meekly acquiesced. We’ve been trained to instantly acknowledge and accept privacy terms and conditions that would never fly anywhere else in the world; this is the price we’ve agreed to pay for access to “free” Internet-based services.

That said, the pendulum may slowly be swinging the other way. More than 80 percent of U.S. respondents surveyed by legal firm Morrison & Foerster said they decided not to make a purchase because of privacy concerns. Five years ago, that number was less than 50 percent. LastWatchdog asked Cisco’s Chief Privacy Officer, Michelle Dennedy, to put this nascent trend into a wider context.

LW: Most people agree to privacy terms without much hesitation. Why has this become so?

Dennedy: Convenience, speed, and the attitude of “what choice do I really have?” We tend to accept that agreeing to the terms is the de facto if we want to play in the real world.… more

Q&A: Cisco privacy chief Michelle Dennedy argues privacy can, and should, be ethically leveraged

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s truly amazing that we need pay no subscription fee to use Web mail or Web search, nor to participate on Facebook or Twitter or partake of countless other social media websites and Web apps.

But make no mistake, these empowering online services are not truly free.

Related: California’s privacy law returns control of personal data to individuals

The price you pay is your personal privacy. Every move you make online is routinely logged, stored and data-mined by companies aggressively seeking to profit from profiling individual Web users.

Meanwhile, the definition of personal privacy—namely, the right to be left alone that was shaped and widely honored before the arrival of the Internet—has been dismantled in our Internet-centric society.

Last Watchdog sat down with Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco, to discuss the wider context and go-forward implications. (Text edited for clarity and length.)

LW: Are businesses taking too much advantage of the absence of online privacy?

Dennedy: We have not come to a common cultural definition, and certainly not a common financial definition, of privacy. When I say privacy what I mean is the authorized processing of personalized information according to fair principles. Now wrapped in that functional definition are all kinds of opinions and biases. So the right to be left alone is part of authorizing how information about you is stored and processed. And the commercial aspect of that has to do with who owns what data.

LW: Aren’t those lines blurred?

Dennedy: They’re more and more opaque to the individual. You don’t know who has access to information about you, who has made observations about you, or who is making statements that may impact you. Today it’s coming full circle. We’re starting to talk about what organizations need to do to prepare themselves for increasing demands in a multicultural world where people want to be assured that their data is being treated with respect.

LW: From … more

MY TAKE: Here’s why the Internet Society’s new Privacy Code of Conduct deserves wide adoption

By Byron V. Acohido

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared that privacy “is no longer a social norm” in 2010, he was merely parroting a corporate imperative that Google had long since established. That same year, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly admitted that Google’s privacy policy was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

Related: Mark Zuckerberg’s intolerable business model.

We now know, of course, they weren’t kidding. Facebook’s pivotal role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Google getting fined $57 million last week by the French for violating Europe’s privacy rules are just two of myriad examples demonstrating how the American tech titans live by those credos.

But what if companies chose to respect an individual’s right to privacy, especially when he or she goes online? What if consumers could use search engines, patronize social media, peruse news and entertainment sites and use other internet-enabled services without abdicating all of their rights? What if companies stopped treating consumers as wellsprings of behavioral data – data to be voraciously mined and then sold to the highest bidder?

With Jan. 28 earmarked as Data Privacy Day —  an annual international privacy awareness campaign — these are reasonable questions to ask. These are ponderings that have been debated by captains of industry, government regulators, and consumer advocates in Europe and North America for the past decade and a half.

GUEST ESSAY: The Facebook factor: Zuckerberg’s mea culpa reveals intolerable privacy practices

By Elizabeth A. Rogers, Adrienne S. Erhardt and Ryan T. Sulkin

In the words of the Nobel Prize writer Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin.’” Revelations in the press about Facebook’s current privacy problems, and a new comprehensive European Union privacy framework that impacts American businesses, may be changing the climate towards more data privacy regulations by United States lawmakers.

As technology and uses for data surge ahead at breakneck speed, however, the testimony of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to highlight both the public’s and lawmakers’ limited understanding of the impact that dizzying advancement has on individual privacy and on our society at-large.

Related article: Good privacy practices can improve bottom line

Against these rapidly changing times, the challenge now is for businesses to voluntarily be more transparent and get express consent from data subjects and for lawmakers to create a protective framework against a hazy and unpredictable future. Facebook’s most recent publicity nightmare has received scrutiny worldwide because multiple millions of users have accounts on the social media platform.

However, the facts underlying the uproar over sloppy privacy practices could happen at any company on a much smaller scale. And, so there are lessons that businesses of all sizes can learn.

What happened?

In the summer of 2014, about 300,000 Facebook users agreed to accept a small payment to download a third party application via Facebook, called This Is Your Digital Life, which presented them with a series of surveys. The Terms of Service in the application disclosed, in broad scope, that the users were granting permission to the application developer to collect and use data on the profile of those downloading the application – and, data from the profiles of their Facebook friends – if their privacy settings allowed it.

This is why the number of Facebook profiles compromised exponentially increased from a mere 300,000 users to that of 87 million users. At the time, this practice was seemingly consistent with Facebook’s practice of allowing outside developers … more