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Berners-Lee: You've Got Our Data, Show Restraint 76

itwbennett writes "Your browsing behavior may reveal more personal information than you'd tell your own mother. Which is why Tim Berners-Lee is urging technology companies to 'show more restraint' in how they use the information they hoover up. 'We're moving towards a world in which people agree not to use information for particular purposes. It's not whether you can get my information, it's when you've got it, what you promise not to do with it,' said Berners-Lee, speaking out against the U.K.'s proposal to allow government intelligence to monitor digital communications."
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Berners-Lee: You've Got Our Data, Show Restraint

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  • hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CSMoran ( 1577071 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:45PM (#39747985) Journal
    Isn't that like asking a lion not to eat us?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Tim Berners-Lee: "It's not whether you can get my information, it's when you've got it, what you promise not to do with it"

      Speak for yourself. For me, it most certainly IS whether they can get it in the first place. Then again, I'm the kind of person that fixes the root of the problem, rather than dick around with the symptoms.

      • More precisely, you're the kind of person who wants to fix the root of the problem.

        The evaporation of privacy is inexorable, it is something you can only impede, not forestall.

        Great, work on impeding it. But recognize that long-term solutions require working with the whole system.

      • Re:Good analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:16PM (#39749067)

        There's no stopping it, EXCEPT by not giving them the data in the first place. They cannot abuse what they do not have.

        And even that will get harder and harder as time goes on. People make tons of "noise" and technology is getting better and better at making sense of it. Regulate government and corporations all you want; it won't matter in twenty years when I can buy a handheld gadget that can spy on you right through your walls.

        In fact, mandating privacy will probably hurt us in the long run, because when we hide all our 'ugly' bits it's easy to start assuming they don't exist at all, and overreact when something happens to leak out. The more we hide and the more we polish our images, the more damaging any leak becomes—like having your career ruined because OH MY GOD somebody took a nude photo of you years ago. Privacy is like a suit of armor; it can protect, but it's very restrictive to keep on all the time, you soon feel completely naked and exposed without it, and you live in constant fear of someone finding a chink.

        So I agree with Berners-Lee. Keeping everything secret from everybody is not a long-term solution. Responsibility is a long-term solution. We need to stop ourselves from obsessing over details we discover of other peoples' lives. We need to realize that no one is perfect and reject the spotless public images the wealthy and powerful can afford to manufacture. We need to promise to be considerate with the information others reveal to us. And most of all, we need to stigmatize the governments and gossips and paparazzi and anyone who trolls personal information seeking harm or humiliation. Such activity needs to be not simply unlawful but morally reprehensible, regardless of what it might dredge up.

        Because in the end, if we can't go about our daily lives without constant fear of those around us, society has failed.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          People make completely unfair judgments. Some people, for example, will deem someone mentally ill and unfit as an employee simply because he has a foot fetish, or some other completely harmless oddity. People need privacy in order to protect themselves from the harmful impact of such stupidity.

          I, for one, will no go quietly into the good night.

        • While I agree, the problem here is that the counterpoint to your pleas that the data should not be 'misused" is the fact that corporations are built to misuse it.

          Look at the details of the article about target knowing the teen was pregnant. Think about the situation from both sides.
          A certain amount of card info is required to process transactions. I want to have the convenience of a card... not exactly a huge ask in my opinion, a card is safer than keeping money in my wallet, not just from thieves but from

      • Re:Good analogy (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @04:39PM (#39750225) Journal
        There are many cases where you'd want to give your data to online entities. Slashdot has my email address. Amazon has my physical address, which kind of helps them delivering the stuff I order from them to my doorstep. The utility company has my physical address and my bank details. And so on. Sure, you could pay everything in cash, not order anything online or set up a P.O. Box, and create dedicated email addresses and identities for every site that makes you sign up. But I'd rather not go through the trouble.

        Berners-Lee has it arse-backwards, by the way: instead of promising what they won't do, companies should simply follow the law laid down in a number of European countries: if you collect data on your customers, you can only use that data for the stated purpose, and nothing else. Now, I don't mind Amazon and Google having certain data on me. As long as they play nice. Which means some additional rules:
        - Don't state that you'll use my data in every which way you see fit: use it only for those purposes that I had in mind when I gave you my data.
        - Don't bury your data privacy statement in 54 pages of legalese: the statement should be visible, clear, and at most half a page (I wouldn't mind that rule to be made into law...)
        - Be very clear on which 3rd parties you share my data with, for what purposes (see the first rule), and under what conditions.
        - You will protect my data well.
        - At any time I will have the option to rescind my permission to use my data. (by the way, that does not amount to that godawfully misguided "right to be forgotten" idea. It pertains to personal data that is a shared secret between me and some company, not to public contributions I or others have made)

        Of course companies could simply ignore the law and share my data anyway, but at least they'd be breaking the law and you could take them to court if you catch them at it. That is perhaps what Berners-Lee is hinting at: it'd be a lot better if data was shared under clear and enforceable agreements, and agreements that benefit the data owner, not the recipient.
    • Isn't asking not to be eaten what a Lion Tamer does?
      Sure, bring on the Siegfried & Roy remarks -- you should.

      And that's exactly how it should be, Lion tamers working with the Lions and Tigers, hoping not to be eaten with casualties being the exception, NOT the rule. Else, we wouldn't have Lion Tamers.

      The problem is, Internet Users are not Lion Tamers and have no way to control the actions and behavior of the Companies that collect their data. Perhaps what we need is an intermediary to be the Lion Tamer

      • Isn't asking not to be eaten what a Lion Tamer does?

        I think a lion tamer has some ad baculum arguments at his disposal, he's not asking. I meant more like a missionary asking "good animal, in the name of Jesus, spare me".

        The meritum of your argument, though -- I'm not arguing with that.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:47PM (#39748017) Journal

    Inventor of the World Wide Web AND a comedian.

  • 'hoover' in this context means 'vacuum', or more commonly 'suck'.

    It is, however, incorrect usage to say that "subby's writing skills for an international audience really hoover'.
    • I'm an american, and I understood what they were getting at with the hoover reference. So did you from the sound of it. What's the problem?
  • Tim Berners-Lee is urging technology companies to 'show more restraint' in how they use the information they hoover up. ... It's not whether you can get my information, it's when you've got it, what you promise not to do with it.

    That's hilarious. Oh Tim you're such a dreamer - or whatever you've been smoking must be great.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      While you say this sarcastically, your point is a good one: there CAN be no restraint. Maybe regionally, or for a while, but not in the larger scheme. Pass all the laws your want, the collection will just move outside your jurisdiction. Or will happen by "black" agencies of the government. There's no stopping it, EXCEPT by not giving them the data in the first place. They cannot abuse what they do not have.

      • There's no stopping it, EXCEPT by not giving them the data in the first place. They cannot abuse what they do not have.

        Agreed... and while we may be smart/paranoid enough not to give the trackers what they want I know my friends and family are probably not that careful.

        So the data is going to leak, simply demanding that it does not happen is less productive than Berners-Lee, at least (in some jurisdictions and services) users can follow TB-Ls advice and demand their (eg. facebook/gmail) data.

        If there is a ground swell of demand for this kind of data it could at least prompt some restraint or rethinking by the trackers.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:50PM (#39748059)
    do not trust the internet, treat it like a criminal or like holding a poisonous snake, = you got learn to use the internet without letting the internet use you.
    • Thats like saying 'Learn to live in society without being owned by it"
    • No, it's much like IRL: everyone is a liar, cheat and a thief until proven otherwise. You can wax whimsically about giving everyone a chance or opportunities lost and all the other fuzzy thoughts, but that does nothing to change the selfish nature of human nature. When society fosters and encourages half-truths, vacuous pitches and sociopaths who believe they deserve more(always more), what else should I expect? Integrity and restraint? Riiiiight.

  • Getting creepy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigredradio ( 631970 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:54PM (#39748127) Homepage Journal

    Lately, I have been noticing my "targeted" ads while surfing around the web and am getting a little creeped out. I bought a couch a few weeks back online and I am seeing ads for furniture companies all the time. If my search results and ads are tailored specifically for me, how do I get exposed to new things?

    Seems like it will pigeon hole the entire internet into blues records, Linux, Old Vespa Scooters, and furniture ads. It's like having an obsessed girlfriend getting you a bunch of stuff just because you may have mentioned it one time in passing.

    • Creepier (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Install this on your Firefox browser. [] Things will look a bit creepier after that.

      I'm using "TrackerBlock" [] and it doesn't stop it all.

    • Re:Getting creepy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:08PM (#39748279) Journal

      The best part is that you just bought a couch... it's not like you are going to buy another.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Amazon gets this wrong all the time. For example, every time I buy a hard drive, it gives ads for hard drives until I delete them all from my browsing history. I mean yeah, I'll buy more than one hard drive in a lifetime, but I probably won't buy one for at least a year or two. The same goes for pretty much any product except books and movies. You might buy spare blades for that razor or spare cutting discs for that Dremel, but you're unlikely to buy a second razor or a second Dremel, even if it is a d

      • It's ridiculous that when I buy earbuds from amazon my eyes get repeatedly dryfucked for recommendations to buy....yep, earbuds from Amazon. Could they even try and get a little creative? An MP3 player or a tablet?
        • Amazon knows what they are doing.

          When you are looking at earbuds, what you see in "customers who bought this item also bought" is more earbuds.

        • Kids.

          I know none of us have them. But, hypothetically, if we did then when we find a good cheap MP3 player it is possible we might want to buy a few more pairs of them that the kids will go through in the next few weeks or at most months.

          Hypothetically [].

      • Yes, but how about a matching love-seat, end-table, or coffee table?

        Last time I replaced my couch, the coffee-table had to go (new couch was a recliner, but the leg-rest and coffee table had to compete on the same space).
        If I'd been given an ad for a good end-table or shorter coffee-table, it might have been a sale.

      • There is furniture other than couches... The advertisers are (from long experience) betting that a) like most people you only had the scratch to upgrade/replace/purchase a single item, and b) that having done so you'll be more likely to be interested in upgrading/replacing/purchasing the balance (either on credit now, or in the future when you have the scratch). Given the low cost and higher conversion rate of targeted ads, they'd be leaving money on the table if they didn't invest something in trying to

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      If you are indeed being inundated with furniture ads, it would seem that the companies doing the advertising missed the point: to advertise and win your business before you bought your couch. After all, unless you're obscenely rich and compulsive about having new things, it's probably going to be a few years before you buy another one!

      But I suspect it's more that now that you have a thing, you're noticing other people do, too. Back when I was a kid, my Dad had the car repainted a brownish-rust colour,

      • The couch (chair futon to be precise) was pretty unique actually. That is why I bought it on the Internet. The funny thing is the ads are for the exact piece of furniture I bought, just being advertised by multiple resellers.
    • how do I get exposed to new things?

      Amazon. Prime. Do it.

    • If only these companies would have collected the data that you bought a couch and stopped looking, then you would get more relevant targeted advertising.

    • Sounds like you might be interested in this video about filter bubbles: []
    • I bought a Galaxy Nexus... so I see tons of ads for it.

    • Can it be? A Slashdot user who doesn't use NoScript, AdBlock, Flashblock and Ghostery? Really?
  • He might actually be able to convince a few people today, while most of the industry players are still run by their founders.

    However, a day will come when the new media companies are a few management generations removed from that, and are just sociopathic earnings machines like every other corporation. Expecting them to show "restraint" that doesn't help their own bottom line at that point is just naieve.

    So perhaps even if they do show restraint now, that just postphones the problem and luls the rest of u

  • Great comments on this one, and obviously Berners-Lee hasn't been paying attention and is waaaaay out of touch.

    America and the UK are total surveillance states at this point, and that's not debatable.

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    Some years back, a poster or commenter in the United Kingdom named Dan, suggested that the social singularity had been achieved, that the economic elites had become so powerful, and their power wielded so subtly and covertly, that few realized just how ea

  • by cmholm ( 69081 ) <<cmholm> <at> <>> on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:09PM (#39748295) Homepage Journal

    In the good ol' US of A, a company can bend over backwards to in fact do no evil with the personal data they collect. But, if they go Chapter 7 bankruptcy (the full monty), the court is under no obligation to care. They view marketable data as just another asset to be sold off to satisfy creditors... even Scientology [].

    Given the current Congress, I think the easiest (but by no means best) first step towards better privacy protection would be some tweaks to Title 11 of the United States Code [].

    • In the good ol' US of A, a company can bend over backwards to in fact do no evil with the personal data they collect. But, if they go Chapter 7 bankruptcy (the full monty), the court is under no obligation to care.

      Are you sure? It seems like whoever ends up with the data would still be bound by the agreements under which it was obtained, in this case the relevant privacy policy. I suppose if the privacy policy allows changing the terms, the new owner could just publish a new "I will be evil with your data" policy. Google's policy, at least, explicitly does not allow the terms to be changed in that way:

      From []: "Our Privacy Policy may change from time to time. We will not redu

      • by cmholm ( 69081 )

        IANAL, but based on what we've seen in major news items over the last couple of years, I'm sure.

        When a company goes Chapter 13 (reorg), most existing contracts go out the window: labor, suppliers, customers. Privacy policies not affected unless it had a material effect on the reorg.

        When a company goes Chapter 7 (liquidation), all contracts, policies, and representations go out the door. The judge and his/her proxies have unlimited leeway to sell off anything, nailed down or not, to satisfy the creditors.

  • by JustAnotherIdiot ( 1980292 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:12PM (#39748321)
    You'll have better luck telling a fat kid to show restraint at a buffet.
  • I think the time for "telling" (really "suggesting") ended years ago. And more and more it's looking like the time for acting has passed us by.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:21PM (#39748431) Homepage

    Tim Berners-Lee: "Please show restraint with everyone's personal data."
    Shareholders: "Please find a way to monetize everyone's personal data as quickly as possible to increase our share price."

    Guess which one the CEO is going to listen to?

    • More importantly, if the CEO listens to Tim Berners-Lee, who is to say he won't be replaced, now or in the future, with someone else that will listen to the shareholders instead?

      Fact is, we live in a world that is becoming increasingly more hostile to those who want their information to remain their own. And so far, I have yet to hear a good solution. Perhaps a lot of different things will work together to safeguard privacy, but I don't see it yet. This suggestion isn't worth the paper it wasn't print
  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:22PM (#39748445)

    I've had good success with my clients and their developers limiting the data they keep by focusing on their potential legal liability should the data leak (internal or external) and/or be misused. The less data you have, and the less sensitive that data, the lower the cost of any data leak.

    As Mr Miyagi said "Best defense, no be there."

    And while storage is cheap, there is a cost to maintaining data, and that's not insignificant. Keep only what you need, or it's probable that you'll need. Throw everything else away.

    When dealing with governments, or corrupt individuals/companies, those arguments may not work as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ""Your browsing behavior may reveal more personal information than you'd tell your own mother. Which is why Tim Berners-Lee is urging technology companies to 'show more restraint' in how they use the information they hoover up."

    Use Tor. All I am to these websites is just another exit node up one day and down the next.

    Use SSL during Tor sessions, the exit nodes are free to sniff my encrypted traffic.

    With The Tor Browser Bundles, it's easier than ever to download, install, configure, and use Tor.

    Everyone shou

  • Crack Babies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperCharlie ( 1068072 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:33PM (#39748545)
    Call me Luddite, call me an old fogey, hell, call me Aunt Mable and dress me up in a nice billowy dress. What has happened here is we have a generation of internet crack babies. We all know there is no chance in hell that everything we do on the internet, and on our nifty phones is not databased for sale and control of us. The issue is that we (as a group) simply can not put down the crack pipe. We wont. We dont care if you strip us down and shove a data tracker striaght up our ass, just give me more internet. And dont bogart the bandwidth. The answer is to abstain. The reality is we are way too far down this addiction to stop.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      When the UN considers the internet a human right and yet another utility, you have to realise it's no longer a 'crack pipe' but a public necessity.

      The Power companies are already eating into your privacy too, go look up the dangers of smart meters, it's NOT just the internet here. We need new privacy laws.


    • We dont care if you strip us down and shove a data tracker striaght up our ass, just give me more internet.

      Umm, I think people actually would care, if they realized what was going on. Outside of Slashdot and other (reasonably) paranoid communities, few people realize the extent to which they are tracked.

      If your web browser had a giant banner that appeared for every cookie, third-party script, random third-party request, etc. that was going on for most websites, I'd bet people would care, because they would actually know what's going on.

      To most people, however, this is invisible. They can't be outraged if t

    • more internet. And dont bogart the bandwidth. The answer is to abstain. The reality is we are way too far down this addiction to stop.

      I like your style but asking people to abstain from the greatest information resource humanity has ever created ... I can't get behind that.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @05:13PM (#39750653) Journal

    ...if you assume everyone's an asshole, and work out your expectations from that, than to assume people are reasonable, intelligent, and caring and go from there.

    Sorry, it's why the US Constitution has been largely a success - it assumed politicians are greedy, selfish, power-hungry bastards. Our fault if we couldn't follow what it told us and let them take more power anyway.

  • Bwuahahaha...

    Sorry... allow me... I'll just need a minute...

    Seriously? Asking for restraint? Tim, you are talking to corporations as if they were human beings. Now this might be news, but they aren't. A corporation does not have morals, values, ethics or anything like it. They sometimes fool us into believing they have, because we interact with them through humans (CEO, employees, etc.) or something made up to appear human (advertisement, PR spokesmen, marketing people in general), but the simple fact remai

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire