Giving web users more control of their personal information online became a key priority for members of Congress in the past year, as well as for federal regulators and the technology industry, which sought to head off new rules by suggesting guidelines of its own.
The momentum for stronger federal regulations on how data can be used and shared began to grow after Facebook faced criticism late last year for creating complex changes to its privacy polices that made some data more publicly available. Apple and AT&T, meanwhile, were criticized in 2010 for a data breach that revealed the network identities of iPad users, while Google said it accidentally snooped on residential Wi-Fi networks as it collected information for location-based applications.
Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission proposed to create a “Do Not Track” tool for enhancing online privacy, so that people could prevent marketers from tracking their web browsing habits and other online behavior in order to deliver targeted advertising. And, aiming to set ground rules for companies that collect personal data online and use that information for marketing purposes, the Commerce Department called for the creation of an online privacy “bill of rights” for internet users.
The importance of online privacy was driven home for campus leaders when a Florida man accused of using Facebook to harass Louisiana State University (LSU) sorority pledges and pressure them into sending him nude pictures was arrested Dec. 16.
Campus police officers at LSU and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents arrested 27-year-old Mitchell Hill at a home in Key West, Fla., where he worked as a chef at a Cuban restaurant. He’s facing only Louisiana charges so far, but FDLE spokesman Keith Kameg said Hill is suspected in Facebook stalking investigations by police at the University of Florida, Florida State University, and possibly other Florida schools.
Hill was resourceful in finding personal information about his victims on Facebook, authorities allege. But research made public earlier in the year suggests that students are getting better at managing their personal information online and are wising up to the need for online privacy … at least, for themselves.
Respecting others’ privacy online might be a different matter. This past fall, a former Duke University student made news when a paper she’d written critiquing her former lovers went viral online. And in a tragic case that prompted calls for more efforts to teach students about appropriate online behavior, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate secretly webcast images of him being intimate with another male student.
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