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The Jackassedness Abounds

By Ken Magill

For three examples of how ludicrously ass backwards our priorities are on online privacy and security, look no further than German savings-and-loan Hamburger Sparkasse, Internet-parental-supervision firm EchoMetrix, and WikiLeaks.

First, Hamburger Sparkasse: [No, non Germans, the name’s not a joke; sparkasse means savings bank.]

According to law firm Hogan Lovells’ Chronicle of Data Protection, “between 2005 and 2010, Hamburger Sparkasse disclosed its customers' bank account data regarding incoming and outgoing payments to customer consultants on a regular basis.

“In addition, the bank used customer, sociodemographic, account balance, and product use data to create personality profiles of its customers. For this purpose, the bank made use of modern neuromarketing and brain sciences techniques.

“The customers were classified in different categories, such as ‘adventurer’ or ‘connoisseur.’ Based on this information, the bank extended custom-tailored offers to its customers. The customers had not been informed of and had not consented to the bank's activities.”

Got that? The bank used information about its customers to profile them and tailor offers to them. Nowhere does the report say anyone suffered any harm as a result of Hamburger Sparkasse’s profiling.

And for trying to serve its customers more efficiently, Hamburger Sparkasse was slapped with a 200,000 euro fine.

Yes, the fine is tiny. But think of it this way: Hamburger Sparkasse isn’t going to pay the fine. Oh, it’ll write the check alright, but it’s Hamburger Sparkasse’s customers who will be paying for that fine—over and over and over.

From now on, marketing communications between Hamburger Sparkasse and its customers are going to be more expensive and less efficient as a result of EU privacy stupidity. Way to go, Germany.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the Atlantic, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently announced a settlement indicating we refuse to be outdone by Europe on the subject of online privacy stupidity.

The FTC on Nov. 30 filed a settlement with EchoMetrix, a firm that sells software that allows parents to monitor their kids’ Web site histories, chats and instant messages,

In 2009, EchoMetrix launched The Pulse, a service offering companies the ability to access what consumers are saying or thinking by providing aggregate consumer opinions from social media sites.

According to the FTC, EchoMetrix’s disclosure about the potential marketing use of Sentry data was inadequately disclosed in the thirteenth paragraph of a scrolling user-license agreement.

Under the settlement, EchoMetrix agreed not to use Sentry data for anything other than allowing Sentry users to access their accounts.

Another neat marketing tool killed by abject stupidity. Note the information was aggregate and by definition an exposure threat to absolutely no one.


Then we have WikiLeaks. An army private downloaded more than 250,000 diplomatic cables and delivered them to WikiLeaks, which in turn published them.

Is there anyone out there under any illusions about what would happen if a commercial enterprise allowed such a leak?

The mainstream media and the blogosphere would be howling for more heavy-handed Internet regulation over e-commerce and online marketing and advertising. FTC lawyers would be peeing all over themselves just thinking about the witch hunt to come.

Instead, with one exception I’m aware of, everyone is focused on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. And even in that one exception, there is no call for government administrators’ heads.

Why the silence on those responsible for allowing the leak of U.S. cables? Because they’re not capitalists. The online privacy movement isn’t remotely about consumer protection. It’s all about punishing capitalists because of privacy advocates’ infantile world view.

Information used for marketing and advertising purposes has never harmed anyone. Some of the information released by WikiLeaks is actually harmful and may get some people killed.

But we punish creators of innovative online marketing efforts that financially benefit everyone involved, even those who don’t know they’re involved. And we let off the hook the incompetent boobs who oversaw the conditions under which Pfc. Bradley Manning says he was able to download hundreds of thousands of sensitive files.

Excuse me while I go shoot myself.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by:
Date: 2010-12-14 23:49:53
Subject: The Jackassedness Abounds

Ken, I am an Australian who agrees wholeheartedly with your sentiments. Thank you for highlighting a couple of perfect examples of society-correctness gone mad. We in Australia are suffering from the same blight (it seems to be a western society virus because the Asian.and middle-eastern societies seem largely immune). We are also having our share of Wikileaks madness with many calls to shoot the messenger, who when all's said and done, is doing no more that what the daily press does across the world: publish information gleaned from anywhere about government activity. The one senior political voice in Australia to direct attention to where it should be directed is Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister, current Foreign Minister and the subject of derogatory remarks in a number of Wikileak cables. He has not attacked Wikileaks but has quite rightly pointed the finger at the American Government Agencies who have had such lax security that this was a situation just waiting to happen. And of course, the law of probability made it happen. As Foreign Minister of course Kevin Rudd has to provide Consular assistance to Julian Assage, which is an interesting take on the events. Good work, Ken! Keep the exposes coming. sincerely Graham Segal