NextBurgh, PA          @VannevarB      About      Pittsburgh Murals
January 08, 2004
Privacy Policies, Assumptions, Impact
So you go to a website, you read the privacy policy, and you give them your name, address, and email. That's OK, right, because their privacy policy says they won't disclose your info?

It's really not that straightforward. Follow this link to read about a US Gov't site that promised to keep people's info private, then found that the workload exceeded expectations and so they made it public. They're privacy pledge was "no longer operative", to use the second-best dubious phrase to come out of the Nixon administration. (first-best: "peace with honor", third-best: "mistakes were made").

The Census is no better. Although it promises to keep all information submitted secret, it actually only keeps it closed for 75 years, meaning that the info on my children will be released during their lifetimes (I hope). And the marketing companies are continually pressing them on the 75-year policy.


Companies are no better than government, especially when it comes to bankruptcy, which is increasingly seen as a legitimate business strategy. Say you go to Acme.com, they promise to keep your email a secret if you give it to them, and so you give it to them. They go Chapter 11 and their assets are subject to procedures that trump the privacy policy, and if they can make money by selling their list then they're obligated to do so. Impossible? It happened with Pets.com.

Practices within the US about personal privacy are anything goes, but within the EU there are very strict safeguards on personal info.

Columnist William Safire (another Nixonian) periodically raises the issue of privacy and speculates that the politician or party that grabs the privacy issue will win support across the spectrum. The Libertarians have a pretty good privacy position but they're got a lot of other issues.

You would think that in a country where the Supreme Court declares a right to privacy, there'd be some practical impact of that right. But right now, you should be wary about your info.

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