Privacy And The Internet

Privacy has only recently become a  concern for people who use the internet.  In the beginning, no one thought about privacy.  Computers were relatively simple, including the computers that hosted internet websites.  How could simply visiting a site invade your privacy?  But as computers have become more sophisticated, cookies and other hidden devices have come along that collect data about what you buy and what sites you visit.   (Do a search on your computer for 'cookies' and see how many there are.)  There was no announcement that a program had been planted in your computer to record your activities and transmit this 'marketing' information back to a website.  They started doing this so they better target you with banner ads and email solicitations.  Or, people are now beginning to think, worse.

The internet was primarily American in the beginning and we are a free-enterprise, leave-me-alone culture raised on wild west movies where freedom is paramount.  Few people called for laws to restrain hidden efforts to find out what we were doing, but that is now beginning to change.

First of all, people are beginning to realize that hidden cookies are an invasion of privacy.   (Unfortunately, they are difficult to ignore.  Try blocking them and see if you can put up with constant screens asking you if you want one.)   Lawsuits have been filed claiming the insertion of cookies into a person's computer violates a number of different laws.  Recently, a $50 billion class action suit has been filed against Yahoo! and claiming that cookies violate, among other laws, various anti-stalking statutes.  

More importantly, however, is the fact that the internet is no longer solely an American playing field.  And that means attitudes from other cultures are now beginning to affect the internet as viewed by Americans.

For example, Europe has a very different attitude toward privacy than Americans do.   The European Union (the EU) has formulated directives that affect e-commerce  and privacy issues on the web.  It is ironic that Americans, who think of themselves as being relatively free of governmental interference (or at least complain about the IRS and other bureaucratic agencies to express their dissatisfaction with governmental interference.) will probably end up having their privacy rights on the internet established by actions taken by the EU.  

For a fuller development of this subject, see "The Impact Of The European Union On The Web" in this website. 

Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann

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