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Can the FTC protect your privacy? And is privacy even real?

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The FTC’s report is the first step in what is expected to be a long process of comment gathering, testimony hearing, and lots and lots of discussion. The commission has no enforcement power on its own; the idea is to formulate some proposals that can gather a lot of support before being presented to Congress some time next year.

Essentially, here’s what they recommend:

1. Factor in privacy controls in the building of websites.
2. Offer consumers clearer choices in managing privacy.
3. Make data practices more transparent to consumers.
4. Educate consumers about privacy.

The commission also recommended the implementation of a Do Not Track list for customers who want to ensure that advertisers can’t follow them around the Internet.

All these ideas, of course, are about how things should be done in the future. We asked Jessica Rich, deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, if there’s anything to do about consumer data already out there. She says that by giving customers more control over their own data, that should apply to the data already collected.

But will a few website controls be sufficient to tame the beast that is your online data repository? Andreas Weigend is a former chief scientist at who now advises companies on online customer behavior. He says the idea of online privacy is nice but it doesn’t match reality. The amount of data we put online doubles every 18 months, he says, so it’s constantly amplifying by degrees.

Besides, says Weigend, “privacy” is just a blip in history anyway. When we all lived in villages and went to shop, the whole town knew what we were doing. It’s been that way throughout history, aside from a recent brief period of relative privacy that ended with Facebook.

Also in this program, we learn some new vocabulary words, pulled from recent tech stories. “Hacktivist” is someone who shuts down a website on principle. “4G” is what Verizon is calling their new network even though the International Telecommunications Union says they’re inaccurate in doing so.

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