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Web Companies Making Subtle Changes to Privacy Policies

April 1, 2012 by Ben Collins in Tech


David Vaile, an Internet law expert from UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Center, warns that web companies are loosening their fine print to allow authorities to get private data without much impediment.

Terms such as “court order” have been changed to “softer terms” like “government request” to circumvent some laws. The term “court order” implies that authorities can get data from web companies literally without a ruling from the courts. The term has now been changed to “government request.”

Vaile is concerned that this pattern would lead to “fishing expeditions,” an act that extracts information without the need to get a search warrant. This can pose a serious threat to privacy.

Vaile said that a court order provides a roadblock to authorities because of the need to justify their actions. Without this clause, authorities can just request for user data without heavy justification. Authorities may also start routinely requesting for user data even without a justifiable need.

Google has recently updated its Privacy Policy. The policy indicates that the company may provide user data upon the request of government.

Google, however, refused to discuss the details of the privacy changes. It released a statement saying requests are all evaluated. The web giant reiterated its commitment to privacy saying users are notified if changes affect them.

Mia Garlick, Facebook Communications and Policy manager, said that Facebook places safety and security as top priorities. Garlick said the company has a strong relationship with local authorities and that systems are in place in case they need assistance.

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@bmcollins
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