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The Hundredth Window, by Charles Jennings and Lori Fena, tells Internet end users what they can do to protect their own privacy, and what they can pressure others to do. Alas, the answer in both cases is "not a heck of a lot." Jennings and Fena have some clear and good ideas, but they involve compromises or concessions. I don't know how they keep their enthusiasm bubbling.
Here's the problem:
"So this brings us to the jumbled state of the Internet privacy game board as we find it today: public concern about privacy is rising; privacy advocates are working hard to build flexible new privacy protection schemes into the grid; some merchants are posting and adhering to clearer, stronger privacy policies and moving toward higher standards of privacy protection in their internal systems; other merchants are going for all the PII [Personally Identifiable Information] they can get, inside the law; and true bad actors are secretly stealing data and lying (if they say anything at all) about their PII collection and distribution practices."
That sentence is too long, and too general. This sort of bumf appears several times in the book, but we just have to tolerate it. When Jennings and Fena get down to cases and names, they supply enough to convince us that things are bad and could get worse. The cases include Newham (a London borough monitoring public areas with closed circuit TVs coupled to facial recognition software), Hotmail (an Internet service whose security holes affected millions of emails), Voyeur Dorm (the Tampa "co-eds" who exchange their privacy for a fee), and a dozen more.
The common case is the Internet user who blunders blissfully through a world of cookies, come-ons, snoopers, and PII sellers or buyers. Several chapters end with tips for such users. For example: with Netscape, use control-O rather than the top-of-window form to insert a new URL -- that way Netscape won't track the history. Hmmm, actually that tip didn't work with my Netscape copy. I guess I should have followed another tip first: Update Your Browser.
The other way to attack the problem is to force ISPs or browser-makers or web-site suppliers to upgrade their privacy rules. Jennings and Fena discuss some of the US legislation in this field, such as the Child Online Protection Act. In the end, though, they prefer cooperation to legislation. They say we should place our faith in voluntary initiatives by an industry that's goaded by its consumers' pressures. That's a controversial point, because Jennings and Fena have associations with TRUSTe.
TRUSTe is a non-profit organiztion that takes money from major industry players like Microsoft and RealNetworks. In return, TRUSTe is supposed to certify that these players adhere to agreed standards. Self-policing is fine, the American Medical Association or the Better Business Bureau work on similar principles. What's not so good is that TRUSTe is so small, it can't afford to lose individual members. As a result, TRUSTe has been the victim of a few well-reported embarrassments. Jennings and Fena don't mention them. And yet, there is no evidence that their positions influence their point of view. I know they could benefit from their beliefs, but I can't see what else they could believe, given the evidence.
For an alternative view, you could try Simson Garfinkel's Database Nation (O'Reilly & Associates, 2001). Garfinkel would prefer to see more government action, and has a somewhat darker view of the corporate world. Trying to pick whose predictions are better is somewhat like picking whether Huxley's Brave New World predicted better than Orwell's 1984 -- a topic that all privacy discussions must bring up. I pick The Hundredth Window over Database Nation, because it's less gloom-and-doomy. Even so, it's no fun reading. If democracy and freedom don't affect your work, feel free to skip it.
— Electronic Review of Computer Books