Hustler’s Larry Flynt on the Illusion of Online Privacy

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Hustler publisher Larry Flynt has written a short essay on The Huffington Post about the illusions of online privacy.

The article is worth a read before you breeze over the Terms & Conditions in order to join a social media site, or eagerly sign away your online privacy in order to play a game like Farmville.

His article starts with the following:

“For the average American citizen, the notion of privacy is extinct. Any information you put out into cyberspace could come back to bite you in the ass.

Retail stores sell your purchase history to third parties without your consent. Social media sites and search engines act as data mines, storing information that could later be accessed by the government and used against you in court.”

Think he’s nuts? Far from it, unfortunately.

You know those stores that ask for your email? Many store networks were hacked several months ago, meaning your shopping history — and credit card details — may have been exposed to hackers. The Epsilon data breach enabled hackers to steal a bunch of customer data from Best Buy, Verizon, Brookstone, TiVo, Walgreens, Home Shopping Network, not to mention many online financial institutions.

And what can be used against you in court? Uh, turns out pretty much everything, and Google (yes, Gmail messages and search history included) regularly hands over user data. In fact, Google hands over data for 94% of U.S. law-enforcement requests.

In this Forbes article, Chris Soghoian, a privacy researcher at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, said many other Internet companies also quietly hand over users’ private information just as often.

“If police have a valid court order, Google doesn’t have many options. They’re the only ones that provide these numbers. Everyone else is cowering in the shadows. Companies don’t want their customers to know they’re handing over their data,” said Soghoian.

Indeed, Flynt’s second paragraph in his brief three-paragraph article states the following:

“The Feds have no problem letting companies collect and exploit our personal information because it makes running a surveillance state that much easier to do. Whenever the government wants to find out what weird shit you’re up to on the Internet, guess what ­they’re going to find out? You can thank Google, Facebook, Walmart, and all the other megacorps for that.”

Flynt, who has fought several high-profile legal battles involving the First Amendment, closes the article with this reminder:

“Be alert: Big Brother is watching you.”

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi’s manager of digital content strategy.