America’s tech giants have been struggling to explain their privacy policies after reports that companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft gave the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM program access to customer records. Mozilla, the free software community best known for such products as Firefox and Thunderbird, is setting itself apart from the pack. The organization, which was not implicated in the scandal, has helped to launch a coalition of advocacy organizations and some tech businesses that has a simple request for the U.S. Congress: “Stop Watching Us.” The website is designed as a petition that consumers can sign—and to date almost 500,000 have done so.
The petition calls for “immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.” As we have noted on this blog, anxieties around data and privacy are real, and consumers are increasingly looking for ways to maintain privacy in the social age. A longtime proponent of the Open Web movement, Mozilla is standing up for consumers by being proactive in its commitment to consumer privacy. Watch for more brands to emphasize privacy and security guarantees—Microsoft, for example, is running a privacy-themed campaign—and perhaps even tout a non-U.S. home base as a selling point, as Norwegian company Jottacloud is doing.
Photo Credit: Tony Fischer
Our attitudes toward online privacy tend to be rather cavalier. We’ll routinely broadcast our latest transactions and travel plans as well as our geo-tagged thoughts and actions via tweets and Foursquare check-ins. Ironically, however, we’ll immediately call foul each time Facebook, Google and the like unveil an update that makes broadcasting life a bit easier. As Fast Company writer Farhad Manjoo pointed out in 2010, “We want some semblance of control over our personal data, even if we likely can’t be bothered to manage it.”
With these Web giants coming under fire for violating consumer’s online privacy—which has yet to be fully hammered out in the legal sense—Google recently launched the U.S. portion of its “Good to Know” campaign. The effort, which kicked off in the U.K. last fall, focuses on tips for online safety. The ads comically draw parallels between real-world and online behavior. One print ad features an excited cartoon bandit strolling through a home’s unlocked front door; copy asks, “Ever go out for the day and leave your front door wide open? Exactly. And the same rule applies to the computers you use.” Other messaging breaks down the basics and (benefits) of cookies and IP addresses, an attempt to ease anxieties about sites such as Google collecting personal information.
Though “Good to Know” has drawn criticism from Internet privacy advocates (“This campaign should be nominated for some kind of award for fiction,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy), the effort will likely help to assure consumers that Google does have their interests at heart and that it can be trusted with handling personal data and protecting privacy.
Photo Credit: google.com/goodtoknow