Pilant's Business Ethics

Business Ethics Blog

Tag: United States Senate

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections
Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com

After nearly two years of intense lobbying, Netflix has won the reform it needs to integrate its services with Facebook. Ars Technica first reported that the Senate quietly passed a reform to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) last week, giving video streaming companies the right to share your data for up to two years after asking for your permission once. (Mother Jones notes that “The Senate didn’t even hold a recorded vote: The bill was approved by unanimous consent”).

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com


This is a government subsidy to a business, in this case, a particular business. The act gives away a right to privacy with no return to the consumer.

Is this good business ethics? One of the first tests of ethics is the question, “Is it legal?” The “reform” makes what was previously illegal into a legal act. It’s also intensely profitable. This passes the sole test of Friedman’s code, “Does it enhance shareholder value?” Yes, it makes more money for the company. I would expect the company’s value to be enhanced.

But this is slicing good business ethics pretty thin. It’s legal and profitable. But so are a great many things that we can be ashamed of.

Is it bad business ethics? It takes a public good, privacy, and converts it to private profit. What did consumers gain from allowing Netflix to sell their information to other companies? That easy, they won the right to be specifically targeted in advertising. Their viewing habits can be used to get a handle on their political beliefs, whether they have children, etc.

It might be argued that the consumer has to give permission to access his records. A blanket right has been abolished and replaced with a private opt out clause. One of the things I have learned is that few of my students even though they are computer literate have any concept of how their data can be used against them. Considering that observation and the mass of e-mails we are bombarded with, I find it unlikely an informed decision is going to be made in many cases.

A company has been profited at a cost to the public interest. It is a government subsidy with all that implies. The company could have done better.

James Pilant

From around the Web –

From the web site, 33 Bits of Entropy: (This article highlights another important issue in online privacy. jp)

New lines will need to be drawn defining what is acceptable data-release policy, and in a way that takes into account the actual re-identification risk instead of relying on syntactic crutches such as removing “personally identifiable” information. Perhaps there will need to be a constant process of evaluating and responding to continuing improvements in re-identification algorithms.

Perhaps the ability of third parties to discover information about an individual’s movie rankings is not too disturbing, as movie rankings are not generally considered to be sensitive information. But because these same techniques can lead to the re-identification of data, far greater privacy concerns are implicated.

From the web site, Tech of the Hub:

Today, Netflix presented at the F8 conference to talk about their planned integration with Facebook. You can see what you friends are watching and they can see what you are watching on Facebook. Not only on a granular level, but Facebook will present what it finds to be interesting trends among your friends’ viewing habits. Mark Zukerberg’s example showed that four of his friends just watched movies staring Johnny Depp. Netflix will be integrating with both Facebook’s newly announced Timeline as well as their OpenGraph platform. Facebook will have similar integration with Hulu.

And, finally, from the web site, Addicting Info:

An archaic 1988 law, the Video Privacy Protection Act, currently prevents the sharing of your video watch lists, such as with services like Netflix or Hulu, on social media outlets such as Facebook or Google+. Earlier this month, the US Senate put through an upgrade to the bill to address this issue, to little notice. It was a minor correction to an old set of laws. But when the US House got ahold of it, they put forth some edits, which is where the problem begins.

These changes, as reported by the ACLU, divorces the bill from a larger set of laws, called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In so doing they eliminated protections which were in place to require a warrant for accessing of cloud-based private electronic communications and other content, such as email, private social network posts, any information stored on cloud based servers. Instead, a subpoena is all that is required, a legal process but one which does not require the due diligence of a warrant, not even requiring an active investigation to acquire.

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Big Brother = Carrier IQ?

English: Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota

Image via Wikipedia

When you use Android  and Carrier IQ is running in the background on your phone, Carrier IQ is tracking your data – just a little bit of data. All they are getting is the following:

Every text message. Every web search. Every phone number. The user’s location and the URL of all web sites searched!

Now that’s service! You are not just another customer to Carrier IQ. They want to be close to you every moment of every day. I bet they keep a record of the names of your pets.

I suppose I am just some kind of reclusive paranoid because I can’t seem to feel that they are acting in my best interest. In fact, call me crazy, but I just get the impression that they are stealing private information and converting for their own use.

I am pleased that Al Franken is calling them on the carpet for this, but that’s not what I want. I want the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute these people. This is theft, a form of private espionage. Since these phones are used by government agencies, police, fire departments and the military, I would like an explanation as to how that does not violate The Espionage Act and laws governing homeland security. Isn’t this exactly the kind of data, another country would crave?

James Pilant

Al Franken Calls On Carrier IQ To Explain Mobile Tracking Software

Earlier this week, security researcher Trevor Eckhart posted a video detailing how Carrier IQ’s software — which has the same name — logs every text message, web search and phone number typed on a wide variety of smartphones and reports them to the mobile phone carrier.

The application also logs a user’s location and the URL of websites searched on the phone, even if the user intends to encrypt that data using a URL that begins with “HTTPS,” Eckhart said in the video. The software always runs when Android’s operating system is running and users are unable to stop it.

Al Franken Calls On Carrier IQ To Explain Mobile Tracking Software

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Blanche Lincoln Returns Once More to Claim the Mantle of “Centrist”

She’s back. A sort of, kinda, maybe, at times, Democrat but more usually a saboteur of Democratic iniatiatives. She implies that she is a “centrist,” a good old-fashioned, common sense, middle of the roader (Did I get all of her usual adjectives in there? You can play a game with her writing and speaking and count how long it takes her to say “common sense.” It’s kind of fun.)

From the Huffington Post

Unrelenting partisanship can strangle our nation’s political process and divert our energies from building our economy. And in the midst of this year’s deficit debate, we’re seeing a great deal of that deleterious behavior playing out inside the Beltway.

         When adhering to a partisan mindset, lawmakers reject any ideas that originate from their opposition, regardless of merit. And the political welfare of our nation — which is increasingly comprised of independents who are practically and politically moderate problem solvers — suffers as a result.

         This partisanship has been evident in the current debate over federal regulations. Catering to their base, the administration has been resolute in its pursuit of aggressive, sometimes duplicitous, and often excessive regulatory agendas. And all of these, as we know, come with a hefty price tag — ill-timed as we continue to see stagnant job growth and unemployment numbers.

I had the pleasure of voting against Blanche Lincoln in both the primary and the general election. Her successful efforts to water down the provisions of the health care bill are not something I am liable to forget any time soon. She is one of the reasons, the huge 60 person Democratic majority in the Senate meant very little in practice.

She’s found a new perch at Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations. You can read that with total accuracy as small businesses for no regulations because that is what it means. You could say, “James, she says in the article that some regulations are necessary.” I don’t believe her for a moment. She was a Senator here for a long time and I was a citizen here for a long time. Her very occasional efforts at anything but total industry support, (remember her derivatives amendment when she was running in the Democratic primary?) disappeared as soon as politically possible.

I figured she would find a safe place to land after her defeat. I hate that she can do that. It’s not fair that when rejected by the public, politicians go on to much, much greater sums of money as lobbyists but that is the nature of the corrupt beast governing us today.

James Pilant


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Elizabeth Warren Announces for the U.S. Senate

Elizabeth Warren, Chairman of the Congressiona...

Image via Wikipedia

This is from Daily Kos. The actual announcement is not supposed to be out until tomorrow.

Former White House financial reform adviser Elizabeth Warren will officially launch her campaign for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts on Wednesday, challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

“The pressures on middle class families are worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington,” Warren said in a statement. “I want to change that. I will work my heart out to earn the trust of the people of Massachusetts.”

Warren has been exploring a run in recent weeks, and has been on a listening tour of the state.

Professor Warren has addressed many issues particularly  consumer fraud. One of her specialities is the pressure on and the decline of, the Middle Class in America. I have watched this presentation. I recommend you watch it as well. Just click on the link.

The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class

You may consider this web post an endorsement of Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy. I wish her well and hope to play my small part in the struggle for that Senate seat.

James Pilant

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