Sunday, March 13, 2022

How the Mouse Moves/ How the Toilet Rolls

I like sex, science, copyright law and order, privacy, and words. Not necessarily in that order.  I read a lot of legal blogs each week, and summarize what interests me as it/they relate to copyright and safe fiction-writing.

Privacy is a problem. 

Quoting Andrew Grove, co-founder, and former CEO of Intel Corporation:

Privacy is one of the biggest problems in this new electronic age. At the heart of the internet culture, is a force that wants to find out everything about you. And once it has found out everything about you and two hundred million others, that’s a very valuable asset, and people will be tempted to trade and do commerce with that asset. This wasn’t’ the information that people were thinking of when they called this the information age.

Active authors are more exposed because of biographies, the need to network, the necessity of online research. To digress about research, last night, I watched "Irresistible" (HBO is having a free showcase weekend, presumably in honor of St. Patrick. I enjoyed Irresistible very much. One scene that caught my attention was when an arrogant Washington DC power broker chose to demonstrate the thoroughness of political research by telling a farmer's daughter that they knew that she owns three cats and spends a lot of time online looking up a certain STD.

I also finished listening to a John Grisham audiobook, "Camino Winds", which also had a strong thread about lack of privacy.

Legal blogger Theodore F. Claypoole of Womble Bond Dickinson LLP discussed a recent move by the state of Illinois to prohibit the police from using citizens household electronic data without a warrant.

I assume that lawmakers don't prospectively prohibit behavior that no one has considered, so seems probable to me that some police forces may be using household data without a warrant.  How far could one go? The interesting site Hackaday reveals that obsessive people can keep track of their own (or of a family member's) toilet paper usage through a smart and connected bog roll holder that counts the spins.

Imagine if that data got into the wrong hands!

For the lawfirm Steptoe, legal bloggers Stephanie A. Sheridan, Meegan Brooks, and Surya Kundu discuss privacy in the age of big data, with insights about retailers keeping tracking data on which customers return items (presumably that they purchased online.)

Quoting Steptoe:

"As technological innovations in e-commerce continue to explode, retailers are increasingly utilizing customer data to personalize customer experiences, prevent fraud, improve their services, and make money through third-party sales. New data analytics tools allow retailers to study a vast array of information—ranging from users' order history to their exact mouse movements—to better understand their customer base."

One would assume that fraud-prevention is reasonable, but from personalized customer data, one could also infer whether or not a customer has a shopping addiction, and a company could discourage online shoppers from making legitimate returns.  The Steptoe lawyers discuss all aspects at length, and make a very valid point about right of publicity laws (which are a form of copyright laws).

Quoting Steptoe again:

"Right of publicity laws, which exist in similar forms in many states (both in statutory and common law form), prohibit the unauthorized use of a person’s identifying information for commercial gain. These statutes have traditionally been invoked by celebrities and other public figures whose names have been appropriated to falsely suggest that they endorse a product or brand. In these recent lawsuits, however, plaintiffs are alleging that retailers, publishers, and credit card companies violate their “right of publicity” merely by including their names or other identifying information on mailing lists that were privately sold or rented to third parties."

One of the assumptions about making an online purchase is that it is private, but what if it turns out to be less "private" than going into a bricks and mortar shop?

Legal bloggers Tim Gole,  Jen Bradley,  Clare Arthur, and Rishabh Khanna for the Australian law firm Gilbert Tobin take an entertaining and informative look at behavioural advertising and targeting.

Quoting a fractional example of their writing:

"You’re browsing online, looking for those new running shoes that are going to make you fitter in 2022. You close the browser and open a social media webpage and soon notice ads for those very joggers and similar products. Congratulations, you’re a subject of algorithmic profiling and online behavioural advertising.

You’ve probably already had similar experiences many times over. You’re likely aware that your online behaviour is tracked, and that there is a lucrative market in the advertising space for the purchase and sale of internet users’ profiles that are based on users’ online behaviour. What you may not understand is how your information is collected and behaviour is tracked, and the algorithmic profiling that occurs to serve you with this advertising."

Having ranted about this very phenomenon, I really liked their observations!

For the last word in global privacy, there is a study by TMT Law

Global  Privacy 2021

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 





  1. I must admit it felt rather eerie this afternoon when we shopped for a new microwave oven (the old one having started doing spooky things that we thought might signify either an impending breakdown or a safety hazard), and mere minutes after I placed the order for our product of choice (free delivery tomorrow!), ads for microwaves popped up in the sidebar of my AOL e-mail in-box. OTOH, I really appreciate Amazon's "you purchased this item on --" feature, which has often saved me from buying duplicate books. On the third hand, since they know all about my buying activities, why do they send me ads for books I've already bought from them? It's a puzzlement.

  2. Margaret, thank you for the comment, and anecdotes. Calling it a puzzlement is very polite of you!