California Looking To Protect You From The Scourge Of Airlines Not Mentioning Privacy Policies You Don't Read

from the i-feel-so-much-safer dept

Back in October, we wrote about how California Attorney General Kamala Harris was threatening United Airlines over Twitter, because their mobile app apparently didn't prominently display the app's privacy policy. California has a silly law that requires privacy policies. Now, Harris has actually sued Delta airlines over the same thing. Of all the illegal things that Harris could be going after, is focusing on mobile apps that don't prominently display their privacy policy really the best use of her time and my taxpayer dollars?

The whole infatuation with privacy policies is, frankly, stupid. They do nothing to actually increase your privacy. Since the only thing they do is hold you to your own rules, they actually encourage companies to take your privacy less seriously, since to avoid possible liability, they're likely to craft privacy policies that aren't as strict. Furthermore, no one reads those things. Forcing companies to display a broadly written policy designed to limit their liability, which no one cares about and no one will read... just seems like a complete waste.

Of course, as we've discussed before, this is exactly what state Attorneys General do all the time. They pick some random issue they can grandstand about, and then pick on companies over those issues, putting all sorts of public pressure on them, solely for the purpose of generating headlines about how they're "protecting consumers" or some other bogus claim... and then they use those headlines for when they run for higher office. The Attorney General slot is quite frequently seen as a stepping stone to becoming governor, and so many AGs abuse the position with these kinds of legal threats and lawsuits almost entirely to be used as campaign fodder. It's sad and pathetic and does little to actually protect the public.

In Harris' press release about the lawsuit, she makes this silly claim: "Losing your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is." But that's ridiculous. Just because Delta doesn't link to its privacy policy from the app doesn't mean that users lose their personal privacy.

The only encouraging thing here is that looking through the comments on the Ars Technica article linked above, they seem almost universally to be against Harris for filing such a silly and pointless lawsuit. Maybe, one day, we can hope that such pointless grandstanding is seen for what it really is: a cynical ploy to make an Attorney General look good in the press, rather than any legitimate legal issue.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:24am

    There's "no evidence of real harm" FROM this.

    So by your standards should be fine. Forcing a corporation to be more open -- and specific, nailed down so they can't revise it later, regardless of the actual terms -- seems in line with my notions of regulating and even deliberately harassing entities that have NO inherent rights, but of course doesn't at all suit Pro-Corporate Mike.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:40am

      Re: There's "no evidence of real harm" FROM this.

      1. It doesn't do any good; in fact, it encourages less stringent policies (read: weaker privacy) from liability-conscious companies.
      2. It wastes taxpayer time and money to do so.

      If that's not "real harm", please provide an example of something that is.

       

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      Cory of PC (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:40am

      Re: There's "no evidence of real harm" FROM this.

      So... are you trying to beat your personal record for most comments in a day?

       

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      Cory of PC (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:46am

      Re: There's "no evidence of real harm" FROM this.

      But on a serious note from me: OK, I might like the idea of having companies being open about their policies, but forcing them by any form of governmental body, or even by anyone? Like the AC above me, that's not exactly a good idea.

      And since when is Mike pro-corporate? He has said he'll support the MPAA and wish them success, but not when they're acting like a bunch of idiots trying to take away our fun.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:30am

    I don't see a privacy policy here at techdirt Mike...

    I guess I know how I can become my state's next governor...

     

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:37am

      Re:

      It's at the bottom. It has been strategically hidden in a link creatively labeled "Privacy".

      I'm pretty sure it says something like "We are going to take all of your information, track as much as possible, retain it forever, and sell it to the highest bidder if it suits us.", but, honestly, I have not read it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:41am

        Re: Re:

        Well darn...

        In that case I'll just have to sue you for not making it prominent enough!

        Governor's mansion here I come! And then pay hikes 10 times my governors salary from lobbyists here I come 4 year to 8 years later!

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    The same issue came up elsewhere too.
    Black boxes for cars. Some people want to know what they are storing, how they are storing and how it is being protected.

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/12/08/0059251/black-boxes-in-cars-raise-privacy-conce rns

     

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:40am

      Re:

      "Some people want to know what they are storing, how they are storing and how it is being protected"

      I'll answer that.

      1) Everything they can possibly track
      2) In the easiest to read format possible
      3) "box", so it is protected from the elements by the plastic and/or metal case - duh.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:42am

      Re:

      ps: California is the only state right now in the US that requires car manufacturers to disclose the physical location of the blackbox and I am not sure but I believe it also mandates that it discloses what it collects.

       

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:45am

      Re:

      On a bit more serious side - I drive a Mini (love the car, actually) and the key fob stores pretty much everything about my driving and the car.

      When the car goes in for service, they don't look at it to tell me what needs to be done. I had them my key, they scan it at the counter (nope - don't need a password from me or anything) and they tell me what trouble codes the car has seen since my last visit, if it is low on any fluids, information about my driving habits (yup - knew why my rear brakes were worn), etc. And I know the key knows my favorite radio stations (the other key has different settings), how much air conditioning I like, my height (yup - adjusts the seat for me), my recent destinations (NAV system shows different ones with the other key).

      If someone had a scanner like theirs (which I am sure can be built from instructions available on the internet), they could learn a lot about me.

       

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    Coogan (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:50am

    you forgot one thing

    They also impose fines on companies that violate these statutes and grow the state's coffers, therefore actually giving politicians an incentive to pass questionable laws like this.

    Politicians win, businesses lose. Customers gain little, if anything.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 9:32am

      Re: you forgot one thing

      Some businesses loose. Others win because they can compete just a little bit less in the market and just a little bit more on following the letter of the law to avoid fines.

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 7:54am

    Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

    1) I agree it may be "grandstanding", but that's FINE with me so long as actually in public interest as this appears. We need more AGs harassing corporations in the public interest, to keep them off their schemes for absolute monopoly. That's what gov't is properly for: to set against corporations, keep them less evil. -- But even a junior lawyer can churn the policy out in a day tops, simply copy a form, replace proper names, add a couple specific fillips, get it initialed by the sup, and be on the golf course by three.

    2) @ "The only encouraging thing here is that looking through the comments on the Ars Technica article linked above, they seem almost universally to be against Harris for filing such a silly and pointless lawsuit." -- Really, Mike? A small bunch of obnoxious techno-geeks on one web-site is your basis for thinking you're on the right side of anything? HA. You're just a thoughtless product of chance in where you were born. Real people will likely be pleased with even the appearance of getting some clarity from a corporation over what they do with one's personal information, and won't care beans about "rights" of "corporate persons" as you believe in.

     

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:03am

      Re: Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

      "Really, Mike? A small bunch of obnoxious techno-geeks on one web-site is your basis for thinking you're on the right side of anything?"

      Let's be honest, that is more evidence than you usually have.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:06am

      Re: Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

      The only thing that happens is the government only encourages more financial waste and corporations just have to raise their prices. A lose lose situation for the public. A company's reputation is what keeps companies from being evil. Word of mouth spreads faster and is far more effective then any lawsuit.

       

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      Cory of PC (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:07am

      Re: Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

      You know, you can make your own post if you want to... but I don't think anyone will take you seriously once they see who wrote the article. Then again, why don't you have your own blog to rant on? At least that way you aren't mucking up the comments with your insanity and attacks on Mike!

      1) Well I would like for the government to tell these businesses to shut up, but I don't want the government to force these businesses to expose their privacy policy to everyone! They can't force everyone to read these policies!

      2) Can you can it with the ad-homs and attacks on him? No, wait, you'll be outta a job if you do so...

      3) And what's this about obnoxious techno-geeks?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 9:33am

      Re: Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

      FWIW I sort of agree with you on privacy but I have a really hard time squaring this statement "to keep them off their schemes for absolute monopoly" with your repeated endorsement of copyright maximalism. Don't you see the hypocrisy here?

       

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      JMT (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 3:26pm

      Re: Mike makes so much wrong I can't refute it all in one post.

      "I agree it may be "grandstanding", but that's FINE with me so long as actually in public interest as this appears. We need more AGs harassing corporations in the public interest..."

      The key word, and why you're so, so wrong, is "appears". Yes, it "appears" to be in the public interest, but it's not. Anyone with half a brain can see that, which explains your comment.

      Privacy policies are written to be in the best interest of the company, and specifically againsts the public's best interest. The AG's misguided efforts are primarily for her long-term benefit, and will result in no benefit to the public at all.

      You're a fool to think this is the government protecting the little people from the corps you hate so much.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:07am

    I am not sure I agree with Mike on this one.

    Forcing others to inform people about how they deal with privacy is a first step to see what will need to be mandated in the future or not.

    I don't like laws that force others to do things, if it can be done without the better it should be the last resort.

    But privacy is and important issue for me and while some people don't read those things, some do and they are the tripwire that alerts the rest of us all, also it can be very instructive to see what happens and find solutions to what doesn't happen but should.

    Plus it is not that burdensome to write one, it may be risky for a company to do so because what it is written will be called to be uphold by others so it can be tricky, but it is also risky to not have others state what they are doing with private data they are collecting.

    Which brings me to another point, this may be better suited to be implemented only by those who collect some type on information on users, if you don't collect any data or significant relevant data then companies don't have privacy issues.

    It also incentivates companies to think about privacy, which I don't think is a bad thing.

    Could I be wrong?
    Sure.

    So for the moment I will just observe and see what happens.

     

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 9:25am

      Re:

      "Forcing others to inform people about how they deal with privacy is a first step to see what will need to be mandated in the future or not"

      The problem here is that the law doesn't actually do that. Because of the way the law is written, it simply encourages companies to have a privacy policy that they cannot possibly break. Rather than informing you about how they intend to use your information, they are forced to write a policy that gives them as much room as they can possibly perceive they will ever need.

      Because of this, privacy policies have become a joke. Almost every one of them basically says they can do anything they want with your information within the constraints of applicable laws and if they decide to change their policy they can do so at any time, without notification, and make any changes retroactive.

      Spending time forcing companies to divulge this bit of information is a waste. What is worse, this (and other) AG's are grandstanding this issue in the name of "protecting people's privacy".

       

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        Sneeje (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 11:20am

        Re: Re:

        Exactly. People so often blindly believe that if a politician says a regulation will do X or it is widely understood that a regulation is intended for X, that the regulation will directly affect X.

        Sadly, our world is far too complex for this almost ever to be true. Anyone that is a student of economics and has spent some time understanding incentives or penalties, understands that it is difficult to move behavior in the exactly the direction that you want.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 1:18pm

        Re: Re:

        Agreed but if laws were changed to force people to declare what they do with your information and what information is collected would you oppose such a law?

         

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    fraunthall (profile), Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    California Silly Laws

    Although California may not be the silliest legal jurisdiction in the USA, it surely is close to the silliest. Perhaps most people in La La Land are on soft drugs a lot of the time - who knows.

    At any rate, my pet peeve is the stupidity and waste of money created by the environment wonks (who often go off half-cocked), epitomized by the dire warnings parking lots under hotels and other buildings must display about the 'terrible' hazards of automobile exhaust. The example I saw in Carlsbad was the lot under the Carlsbad Inn. It is close to the ocean, is open to the air on 3 of its four sides, and gets plenty of sea-breezes to blow the exhaust away, nevertheless it is plastered with silly signs. It is no wonder California is or was effectively bankrupt. Bankrupt treasuries go with bankrupt minds.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    Why not make a law that says that all privacy policies must be done Twitter style. IE, must fit in 140 characters or less.

    "info not sold. Is sent to HQ for tracking only."

     

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      Michael, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 9:35am

      Re:

      Perhaps not 140 characters, but conform to a standard set of items that the company CURRENTLY does and does not do. Rather than telling us they can or cannot do something with it, making the privacy policies simply state what they do.

      - We collect the personal information you give us in your profile
      - We collect IP address information whenever you visit
      - We retain this information for 2 years
      - We share your information with our partners
      - We share anonymized data with vendors
      - We share all information with government agencies

      Then, at least consumers would be able to make an informed decision. In fact, if the list of items were standardized, browsers could tell you when sites did things you have decided make you uncomfortable.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2012 @ 10:55am

    I'm so going to make my site's new Privacy policy based of an even wilder versions of Skipity policy.

     

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