March 30, 2012 at 4:25 PM ET
Once again proving he's the one government representative who gets this whole technology thing, Sen. Al Franken D-Minn., called out Facebook and Google during a speech for American Bar Association's Antitrust Section.
Franken, who chairs new Senate subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, was there Thursday to call for greater enforcement of antitrust laws for all-encompassing tech and media companies, including mobile and cable services, as well as online services. Such Web corporations, he said, is "where privacy becomes an antitrust issue."
Last year, when it was revealed that iPhones and iPads were mapping user locations in accessible files for up to a year, Franken, D-Minn., got down to business, firing off pointed questions in a two-page open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Franken also joined other senators urging Facebook to "reverse a plan that would allow app developers the ability to request access to users’ addresses, phone numbers and other contact information."
In his ABA speech, Franken noted how the more that "average Americans depend on Google and Facebook daily, "the less incentive (the companies) have to respect your privacy," he said. Both of these "free" services make the bulk of their money via user profiles, allowing third parties to target ads using the extensive personal information stored there. "You are not their client, you are their product," he said.
Institutions that "protect our individual privacy rights from the government don’t apply to the private sector," Franken said. "The Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to corporations. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to Silicon Valley. And you can’t impeach Google if it breaks its 'Don’t be evil' campaign pledge."
If you don’t want your search results shared with other Google sites -- if you don’t want some kind of super-profile being created for you based on everything you search, every site you surf, and every video you watch on YouTube -- you will have to find a search engine that’s comparable to Google. Not easy.
If you want a free email service that doesn’t use your words to target ads to you, you’ll have to figure out how to port years and years of Gmail messages somewhere else, which is about as easy as developing your own free email service.
Franken had equally sharp words for Facebook:
If you use Facebook -- as I do -- Facebook in all likelihood has a unique digital file of your face, one that can be as accurate as a fingerprint and that can be used to identify you in a photo of a large crowd.
You might not like that Facebook shares your political opinions with Politico, but are you really going to delete all the photos, all the posts, all the connections -- the presence you’ve spent years establishing on the world’s dominant social network? The more dominant these companies become over the sectors in which they operate, the less incentive they have to respect your privacy.
"It isn't time for alarm bells just yet," Franken said. But wouldn’t we feel a lot more comfortable about that if we knew that market forces would act to stop such an egregious abuse of our privacy? And shouldn’t we be concerned that, as these companies that trade in your personal information keep getting bigger and bigger, they become less and less accountable?"