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The 5 biggest online privacy threats of 2013

Melissa Riofrio | April 9, 2013
Your online life may not seem worth tracking as you browse websites, store content in the cloud, and post updates to social networking sites. But the data you generate is a rich trove of information that says more about you than you realize--and it's a tempting treasure for marketers and law enforcement officials alike.

Privacy advocates see Do Not Track as a no-brainer fix for the many privacy issues related to cookies. Marketers point to the ongoing success of data-driven, targeted Web advertising, which cookies make possible, as an indirect endorsement of their methods.

Consumer behavior might be sending conflicting signals, but nonpartisan research suggests a need for more, not less, protection. According to Mary Madden, a senior researcher for the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, "Privacy concerns do have an influence on user behavior." Studies conducted by Madden and her colleagues indicate that cell-phone users are likelier to discard an app if they don't like the way it uses their personal information.

Trevor Hughes, who looks at privacy from an organizational perspective as CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, says, "The one thing that can threaten big data is getting privacy wrong and screwing up consumer trust. The companies that miss that message are going to suffer."

One thing is certain: Resolving online privacy issues will be essential as new devices--smart cars, watches, Google Glass, and more--add to the growing data stream. "Make no mistake, everything we touch that is digital in the future will be a data source," says the IAPP's Hughes. "I can imagine lots of great things emerging from this. But the privacy things have to be fixed."


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