The government security establishment is not the only threat to our privacy; most of the transactions that we engage in are with private companies. In recent decades, the private sector has learned that personal information is a valuable commodity, giving companies a strong incentive to collect as much data as they can about all of us. Indeed, we have seen the private sector engage in increasingly pervasive surveillance of individuals and their activities, transactions, and lifestyles. In the absence of regulatory restrictions, this trend will only intensify as the full fury and genius of capitalism applies itself to spying on all of us.
This spying threatens to create new opportunities for corporate manipulation and control of individuals, to accentuate the advantages and disadvantages experienced by different groups, and to generally shift power from individuals to powerful companies.
Corporate privacy invasions are often opaque or invisible to customers or poorly understood by them. In other cases, lack of choices leaves consumers with little alternative but to give up their privacy in exchange for valuable services. As a result, marketplace competition is typically not a sufficient force to protect consumers’ privacy. The ACLU works to promote carefully constructed statutory protections so that we can enjoy innovative new goods and services without giving up our privacy.
The ACLU of California has created a guide for businesses featuring advice on how to respect people’s privacy and free speech rights. The guide includes over 100 case studies showing how following the ACLU’s best practices can benefit not only users, but also companies’ profitability.
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