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The US government last week settled with an app that allows women to track their menstrual periods against claims that they have shared users’ health information with Google and Facebook. One photo archive app also addresses claims that it used people’s images to build facial recognition systems.
These app makers get into trouble not because what they do seems intimidating – but because they don’t respond to it in advance.
In the United States, as long as companies do not mislead their customers, there are not many legal limitations on what they can do with our personal information.
Isn’t that great? But California has a relatively new data privacy law – awkward and flawed – but is starting to point out compelling ways to empower Americans to limit how our data can be. use.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission said the women’s app, Flo Health, had broken its promise to users to keep their information private when it was sharing sensitive data including women’s pregnancy. with other companies.
Under the terms of the agreement, Flo must now get everyone’s consent before sharing their health information. (Flo doesn’t admit what she did wrong. The company says it doesn’t share users’ health data without permission.)
People can choose which company to trust with our personal information as long as they are honest about what they are doing. However, that’s often a go-to, confusing choice: either say yes to a obscure-language privacy document or don’t use the website or app at all.
The California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect a year ago, is starting to outline a promising alternative.
By law, residents of the state – and in some cases, all Americans – can ask large companies to let people know what data they have about you and with whom they shared it. People can also instruct companies to delete and not “sell” the data they have about you. (There is no consensus on the legal definition of “sell”.)
The law is not perfect and it’s complicated. People have to go to every organization that can have their data deleted or restrict what can do with it.
But California law also envisions the possibility of “an authorized agent” exercising the data rights on our behalf. Instead of filling out 100 forms to ask 100 companies to delete your data, you’d choose a privacy assistant to do it for you. Last month’s Consumer Report began offering to become the privacy assistant as a pilot project.
The most compelling idea is that the privacy assistant could be just a web browser where you tick the box once and every website you visit will then receive an automatic notification to prohibit sharing or selling. personal information is gathered there. Think of it as a version of the “Do not call” list over the phone.
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So far, some websites have started adding this security agent feature. (The New York Times is one of the related organizations, both helping to develop browser specifications while agreeing to make everyone’s choices.) If California determines that this type of security agent is legally binding, I hope the project is This will expand.
These privacy ideas are just getting started. But I’m fascinated by our ability to give Americans real power over our digital lives.
Tips of the week
Troubleshoot your stupid (GAHHHH!) Printer
Many Americans work from home during the pandemic printer purchased – and accompanied by cursing and screaming. Brian X. ChenThe New York Times personal technology columnist is here to help:
The printer is probably the worst technology product ever made. My first job after college involved evaluating printers for a small tech magazine. So I know more than what I want about a machine. Here are some common problems and solutions:
My wireless printing stops working: Last week, you printed that Amazon return label over your Wi-Fi network. Today you cannot. Why?
Sometimes the printer goes to sleep and disconnects from your internet network. Sometimes, restarting the printer will get it working again.
Another possibility is that the printer has changed its IP address – an identifier assigned to each internet-connected device – and now your computer cannot find it. You can fix this problem by going to your internet router’s advanced settings and setting a static IP address for the printer. (Do a Google search for the name and model of your router and instructions on how to set a static IP.)
I got an error when trying to print: This is common and sad. Often the problem is outdated software. Do a web search on your printer model to find what’s called a new driver or firmware update and follow the instructions to update the software.
I ran out of ink too quickly: This can happen if you buy a non-branded cartridge. If this becomes a recurring problem, try switching to a different brand – preferably the cartridges made by the printer manufacturer.
Another possibility is the printer software error message and the printer incorrectly reports out of ink. Again, a driver or firmware update might help.
Finally, remember the printer’s golden rule: When in doubt, restart your printer and the device you’re trying to print. That sometimes makes the problems go away.
Before we go …
More information about smoking guns is possible in the Google antitrust lawsuit: One of the most compelling claims in the government’s antitrust lawsuit against Google is that the company and Facebook have teamed up to help their businesses at the expense of others. A new report by my colleagues Dai Wakabayashi and Tiffany Hsu shows that Google has endowed Facebook in desktop ad auctions and the two companies fear they might be investigated for edge drops. painting.
Say you’re doing something that’s not the same as doing it: Facebook has said that it has stopped automatically suggesting people to join the kind of partisan political or social group that sometimes directs people to extreme ideas. An analysis of the news feed of some Facebook users by Markup found the site didn’t actually stop those automatic suggestions.
It’s the right time to immerse yourself in nostalgia: On eBay, you can fall in love with Sassy childhood magazine.
Two groups of penguins – one in the water and the other back – stop to chat. (OK, I don’t know if they’re talking or not. Satisfy my imagination.)
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