About: Alex Alexander

Alex Alexander is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) and corporate attorney licensed in California. Alex focuses his practice on Internet, technology, and media-related transactions and advice, with concentrations in the areas of data privacy & security, mergers & acquisitions, and intellectual property matters.

Recent Posts by Alex Alexander

Illinois Bars Employers from Requesting Social Media Passwords

On August 1, Illinois became the second state to amend its workplace privacy law to prohibit employers from asking employees and job applicants for their social media passwords. The change to the state’s Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act goes into effect on January 1, 2013.  Maryland was the first to pass a similar law in April.  Other states like California, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have similar laws pending. The laws are designed to curb employers’ use of social media accounts to assess the online behavior of a potential new hire or existing employee.

Microsoft Leans Pro-Privacy With Its Do Not Track Browser Settings

Microsoft has caused quite a stir regarding an updated product that hasn’t yet shipped. The new version of its Explorer web browser will be preset to reject tracking of a person’s online movements. The company’s Chief Privacy Officer, Brendon Lynch, confirmed in a blog post that Windows 8 (containing Explorer 10 web browser) will have Do Not Track (DNT) enabled as the default setting.  DNT tells advertising and analytics companies that an individual does not want to have their information collected or used.  Naturally, if your company’s business model relies of being able to track users, having the world’s most popular web browser (ostensibly) make that choice for its users, doesn’t sit well. By default, users would be opted-out of tracking. Opponents of Microsoft’s decision include the influential World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which had asked the company to make it an option rather than a preset. Others theorize that advertisers may simply ignore users’ preference arguing that Microsoft, not the individual consumer, chosen not be to tracked. This is topical and raises several very interesting privacy questions that may lead to legislative initiatives or legal challenges.

Google to Pay $22.5 Million Record Fine to FTC over Safari Tracking

Google agreed to pay a record $22.5 million to settle claims levied by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Google violated an earlier privacy settlement it had with the agency.

Google placed advertising tracking cookies on the computers of Apple’s Safari browser who visited sites within Google’s advertising network for several months in 2011 and 2012. (Safari is the browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads. Google’s ad network is DoubleClick.) This misled consumers who were assured that they were automatically opted out of tracking because Safari’s default setting blocks most cookies coming from third parties.

The Commission said Google’s misrepresentation to Safari users broke the terms of a 2011 FTC settlement decree relating to privacy problems with Google’s now defunct Buzz social networking tool. Google did not admit to violating the 2011 decree, but agreed to disable all the tracking cookies it said it would not place on consumers’ computers.

Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, reaffirmed the Commission’s commitment to enforce consumer privacy rights, saying “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

California Attorney General Forms New Privacy Unit With A-Team Prosecutors

California’s top attorney, Kamala Harris, announced the launch of the Department of Justice’s Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit, being formed to guard the privacy of Californians by prosecuting violators of state and federal laws.  The press release says “The Privacy Unit will police the privacy practices of individuals and organizations to hold accountable those who misuse technology to invade the privacy of others.”  The new department, with six veteran prosecutors, will wield broad enforcement powers over cyber privacy, health privacy, financial privacy, identity theft, government records and data breaches. It will operate within the eCrime Unit that Harris created in 2011.

Congress Probes Leading Data Brokers on Dossiers

On Tuesday, the Congressional Privacy Caucus sent inquiry letters to nine of the largest data brokers regarding their privacy practices, including how they collect, analyze and sell consumer information.  Data brokers are organizations that compile data on consumers and sell that data to third parties for marketing and other purposes.  “By combining data from numerous offline and online sources, data brokers have developed hidden dossiers on almost every US consumer,” the letters said.  This practice is worrisome to privacy advocates and particularly the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has been candid in its statements and in its March report on consumer privacy, stating that the FTC intends to crack down on these unregulated data aggregators.  The settlement with Spokeo last month is reportedly the first with others to follow this year. The Privacy Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), seems to be weighing legislative action to demand oversight and industry accountability.  Companies receiving the letter were Axciom, Epsilon (Alliance Data Systems), Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Markle and Meredith Corp.  The companies have until August 15 to respond.

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