Google, Microsoft change privacy policies

Amid public uproar about privacy changes at Google and Microsoft, Internet lawyer Spiro Verras advises individuals to protect themselves and encourages websites to think creatively about protecting privacy

(PR NewsChannel) / October 22, 2012 / TAMPA, Fla. 

Spiro Verras LawThe New York Times reports that Microsoft Corp. has quietly changed its privacy policy and terms of service, diminishing user privacy protections and giving Microsoft “broad leeway over how it gathers and uses personal information from consumers of its free, Web-based products like e-mail, search and instant messaging.” The article explains that Microsoft’s changes are similar to recent privacy policy changes by Google that permit “virtually any use of customers’ personal information.” While Google’s privacy changes set off a public uproar, Microsoft’s privacy changes have gone largely unnoticed.

Internet and media lawyer Spiro Verras, who authored the widely-acclaimed privacy policies and terms of service of the social network, explained that Microsoft’s online services, like Google’s, are based on a business model that requires using the private information of Internet users. “These companies know a lot about us: which websites we visit, what we search for, which ads get our attention. In a sense, they know more about us as consumers than we know ourselves. That knowledge is the holy grail of marketing. Google and Microsoft can, in effect, build a consumer dossier on everyone who uses the Internet, and with the recent changes to their terms they have the unfettered ability to sell that information or use it in any way they want.”

Verras, who has offices in Tampa and Palm Harbor, Fla., was the first lawyer in the United States to file a federal consumer antitrust suit against Microsoft for abuse of its Windows operating system monopoly in Quigley v. Microsoft (2000). “The Microsoft Consumer Antitrust Litigation began 12 years ago, and it already seems like ancient history. In those days you bought software on CD and visited static Web 2.0 sites that gave you information top-down. Selling expensive software now seems so ‘last millennium’ – the latest laptops don’t even have a disk drive. Instead, we are now living in a cloud-based world, where we get our apps online and where the Web 3.0 sites we visit most, whether they are Facebook or Google or even news sites, make money by selling information about us. We are no longer the web’s customers – we are the product that websites sell.”

“Government regulation can’t keep up with these changes, and may never be able to provide adequate protection,” says Verras. “Even the European Union, and Germany in particular, which have been much more aggressive in trying to protect individual privacy online, have only been able to enact half-measures to avoid crippling tech innovation. The authorities here in the U.S. are even further behind.”

The New York Times reports that U.S. authorities have started to take notice: “Web companies like Microsoft and Google have been moving aggressively to expand their abilities to gather and sort information about individuals’ habits and interests — even as Congress, federal regulators and the Obama administration have been seeking ways to protect Internet users against unwanted privacy incursions.”

Verras encourages the web entrepreneurs he represents to find creative ways to make money while respecting their users and protecting privacy. “All it takes is a willingness to think outside the box and not follow the existing web paradigms. We did it with Unthink, and that was in social media, where the dominant Facebook paradigm is entirely about user monetization. If we could do it, there’s no reason it can’t be done in the retail, auction, search and video channel segments of the web market.”

As a cyber-lawyer, Verras is keenly aware that most of the tech world is not concerned enough about privacy to challenge the status quo, and so he advises individuals to explore the settings on their browsers and on their phones. “It’s a bit of a trade off. For example, you can change your browser settings to block all cookies, which are still the most common tracking tool. However, if you do that, sites you visit regularly won’t remember who you are and many functionalities will be impaired. Likewise, if you turn off location services on your smartphone, apps won’t be able to track your movements, but those apps also will not work as well. Take the time to find your personal comfort zone between privacy and functionality and adjust your settings and your use accordingly.”

“If you want your privacy back where it was 20 years ago, you should probably not use the Internet at all, stop buying pay-per-view movies, and get rid of your smartphone while you’re at it. Most of us are not willing to do that. We like the access to information and hyper-connectedness that technology has given us too much to give it up entirely. The key is to strike a balance between being engaged online and being vigilant about not revealing more information than is absolutely necessary for our enjoyment.”

About Spiro Verras: Spiro Verras has practiced law for 19 years and is licensed in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.  Educated at Yale University and Tulane Law School, his experience includes corporate and business law, real estate and closings, intellectual property, estate planning and probate, and civil litigation of all types, with wide experience in admiralty and environmental law, serious personal injury and commercial litigation. He has championed civil rights, consumer protection and privacy matters, and was the first attorney to sue Microsoft in the In Re Microsoft Consumer Antitrust Litigation.  He has also pursued claims against major financial institutions on behalf of defrauded customers. Spiro was a co-founder and chief legal officer of the groundbreaking Unthink social media project, which sought to empower individuals and provide the most comprehensive privacy and ownership rights ever offered by a social network through its revolutionary legal structure. Throughout his career, Spiro has fought as a tireless advocate for his clients, and he brings the same personal passion to his transactional work, taking the time to truly understand his clients’ concerns and giving each client personalized attention and care.

Spiro J. Verras, Attorney at Law, is a full-service law firm with offices in Tampa and Palm Harbor offering:

            • Estate Planning

            • Probate & Trust

            • Real Estate

            • Landlord/Tenant

            • Foreclosure Defense

            • Corporate & Commercial

            • Litigation

            • Media & Internet

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SOURCE:  Spiro Verras

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