Some European politicians in charge of "privacy" issues have decided that your IP address should be considered personal info
, along the lines of your name or address. This has various implications for how sites like Google store IP addresses -- but also should raise some questions about what sorts of information should be considered private. We've already talked about why you should just assume that any information you put online is already public info
, but an IP address isn't exactly something that you "put" online. It's something that automatically identifies where you're coming from and is a necessary part of internet communications. While it is true that an IP address can often be used to trace back the identity of an individual, it seems a little odd to think that a bit of information that your computer announces to every site you visit should somehow be considered private. By it's very nature your IP address is rather public -- and if you want to "hide" that information there are various anonymity tools and proxy servers to do so. It seems like a rather artificial construct to suddenly claim that an IP address, which is used to announce where you're coming from, now needs to be considered private information.
In fact, this whole discussion raises an important (and all-too-often-ignored) issue: personal information and privacy isn't exactly a binary situation, where information either is, or is not, private. There's a whole spectrum -- and it depends very much on the circumstance. Your name is personal info, but most people are public enough with it. Your credit card information clearly is "private," but you share it with plenty of merchants as part of the transaction that you're making. Your phone number is personal information that you may keep private in some cases, but are willing to make public in others. So, the privacy of personal information varies a great deal based on the context and use -- and it seems a bit forced to suddenly declare that a particular piece of information is personal, and therefore must be kept private.