When Complaining About Your Job Becomes a Privacy Violation

A woman in Pennsylvania likely thought she was just complaining about her job in the way that millions of people do every day. But Stephanie Sicilia, who works for an OB/GYN, has placed herself and her employer in jeopardy of hefty fines and even imprisonment after she allegedly complained about patients on her MySpace page.

The MySpace posts didn’t mention patients by name, but at least one patient said she recognized the identity of a patient who was described in a post as having an abortion. The posts could be considered violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

Penalties for violating HIPAA vary, depending on the nature of the violation. A common penalty is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or a year in prison.

Online Age Verification for Children Brings Privacy Worries

WHEN it comes to protecting children on the Internet and keeping them safe from predators, law enforcement officials have vocally advocated one approach in particular. They want popular sites, like the social network MySpace, to confirm the identities and ages of minors and then allow the young Web surfers to talk only with other children, or with adults approved by parents.
But performing so-called age verification for children is fraught with challenges. The kinds of publicly available data that Web companies use to confirm the identities of adults, like their credit card or Social Security numbers, are either not available for minors or are restricted by federal privacy laws.
Nevertheless, over the last year, at least two dozen companies have sprung up with systems they claim will solve the problem. Surprisingly, their work is proving controversial and even downright unpopular among the very people who spend their days worrying about the well-being of children on the Web.

Groups seek to shield minors’ Web data

Child advocates seek regulatory guidelines to prevent Internet firms from gathering sensitive information.

A coalition of medical groups and child advocates called Friday for guidelines that would prevent Internet companies from tracking the behavior of minors online, contending that many adolescents are divulging more than they realize and aren’t digesting complex privacy policies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Assn. were among those asking the Federal Trade Commission to encourage the Internet industry to stop profiling young Web surfers by monitoring the sites they visit and the interests they list on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

Just as the government has restricted the amount and nature of television commercials aimed at children, the FTC should step in when interactive ad systems gather sensitive information from minors, the groups said in a filing Friday.

It came amid a flurry of responses to an agency proposal for voluntary guidelines on a burgeoning form of online advertising known as behavioral targeting, a market expected to be worth billions in a few years.

Other nonprofit groups expressed alarm at the rapid consolidation of the largest online ad companies and about Internet service providers beginning to share their vast amounts of data with marketers.

“New ad networks appear to be using . . . traffic data for behavioral advertising without proper safeguards or user consent,” the Center for Democracy and Technology and two other groups wrote. “No regulation or self-regulation exists to address the privacy implications of this new model.”

The medical groups said teens were among the most active Internet users and were the most sought-after by advertisers. But the groups said teens also were the least able to understand how to stop their personal activity from being tracked, used for marketing purposes and sold to others.

Your Privacy Is an Illusion: How MySpace Targets its Ads

There’s nothing quite like having your online profile mined for fun and profit. MySpace has revealed details of its new targeted advertising ploy to the New York Times. Not only does the system troll for overt clues like occupation, but it also analyzes the kind of music you listen to, the movies you watch, and who you’d most like to meet.
From this data it can determine whether you’re into indie rap, zombie movies, or have a thing for Samuel Jackson — and pelt you with advertisements accordingly. The system can even be used to target regional fan of a particular music genre for concert tours. “We are blessed with a phenomenal amount of information about the likes, dislikes and life’s passions of our users,” says Fox Interactive Media president Peter Levinsohn. Blessed. Thank goodness the Web’s denizens are so free with their personal information — it’s considered “digital gold.” These targeted ads are projected tol boost MySpace’s monthly revenue by $30 million. Maybe it will finally have enough free cash to fix the damn site.
{The author writes tongue-in-cheek, “Thank goodness the Web’s denizens are so free with their personal information — it’s considered “digital gold.”—–If only everyone who uses the Internet for health searches realized the exact same thing happens to any information they share with “health” sites: their highly personal data is stolen, mined, and sold. We advise you not to use the Internet for health searches—there are no laws protecting your data from theft or misuse and there are no audit trails to track who steals and sells your data. So you have no recourse for any harms like privacy violations that occur or for discrimination against you by insurers, employers, banks, and other corporations that buy your valuable data. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}