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商业 - 科技

别太相信大公司能保护隐私,都是夸夸其谈

Robert Hackett 2019年01月16日

没有谁的手是干净的,尽管某些公司侵犯隐私的做法更加引人注目。

就在两个月前,IBM的首席执行官罗睿兰还在布鲁塞尔的一场隐私会议上猛烈抨击大型科技公司滥用用户数据。她使用了“信任危机”这个词,并将其归咎为“少数面向用户、占据统治地位的平台不负责任地处置个人数据”。罗睿兰没有必要点名批评对象,人们就明白她的意思,Facebook毫无疑问名列其中。

而如今,IBM发现自己也陷入了令人难堪的抨击之中。洛杉矶市检察院办公室对IBM的一家子公司提起了诉讼,按照诉讼书的说法,这家商业机构在数据隐私上的做法存在问题,涉嫌“欺诈用户”。在此之前,《纽约时报》(New York Times)近日对The Weather Company的天气预报应用The Weather Channel的消费者数据使用情况进行过一次调查。本次调查引发了公众关注,而该公司在2015年已经被IBM以20亿美元收购。(可能值得一提的是,前The Weather Company首席执行官大卫·肯尼后来担任了IBM人工智能业务的主管,最近又成为了全球最大的市场调研公司尼尔森的首席执行官。)

争论的核心在于:The Weather Channel要求用户同意它获取用户位置,声称需要这一信息来提供“定制的当地天气数据、通知和预报”。但该应用的自动弹出框没有提到The Weather Company保留了向广告商和对冲基金等其他第三方出售用户定位数据来获取利润的权利。相反,这一信息隐藏在单独的一份近1万词的隐私政策中,用户必须仔细寻找才能发现。

IBM辩称其子公司没有做错。IBM发言人萨斯瓦托·达斯在一封发给《财富》杂志的电子邮件声明中对诉讼书进行了回应,表示“The Weather Company在使用位置数据的问题上一直保持透明。公司在数据披露上的做法完全合适,我们将积极为此辩护。”

这是一种观点。另一种观点认为The Weather Company辜负了人们的信任,其手段令人想起作为IBM对手的某些科技公司的做法,而这种做法是罗睿兰本人曾经严正抨击过的。

实际上,没有谁的手是干净的,虽然某些公司侵犯隐私的做法更加引人注目。Facebook的首席执行官马克·扎克伯格于去年对美国国会表示,Facebook的用户可以掌控自己的数据,只要愿意就能删除它们,但他随后对所谓的影子档案问题却含糊其辞,那些是公司保存的非Facebook用户的数据。再想想苹果公司(Apple)的首席执行官蒂姆·库克。库克对竞争者所谓“监督”的做法嗤之以鼻,而且他也在布鲁塞尔进行了发言。在谴责广告业务时,他就差直接点名谷歌(Google)和Facebook等公司了。然而没关系,据说谷歌向苹果支付了数十亿美元,让自己的同名搜索引擎成为苹果网页浏览器Safari的默认选择。

还用怀疑世界正在经历信任危机吗?数据隐私政策的公布应该是完全透明的。个人的数据被如何使用,流向了何处,这本不该存在任何模糊。罗睿兰在布鲁塞尔讲话时对听众说,消费者“在占据统治地位的互联网平台公司面前几乎没有什么权利”。在没有知情同意权的情况下,她完全正确。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本最初登载于《财富》的科技时事通讯Data Sheet的周末版本Cyber Saturday。

译者:严匡正

Just a couple months ago, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty inveighed against big tech companies abusing people’s data at a privacy conference in Brussels. She cited a “trust crisis,” ascribing its origins to “the irresponsible handling of personal data by a few dominant consumer-facing platforms.” Rometty did not have to identify the subjects of her criticism by name, Facebook no doubt among them, for people to understand her point.

Now IBM finds itself uncomfortably lumped in with the offenders. The office of the city attorney of Los Angeles has filed suit against an IBM subsidiary for allegedly “deceiving users” about the business unit’s questionable data privacy practices, as the lawsuit states. The city’s complaint follows a recent investigation by the New York Times which drew attention to consumer data exploitation by The Weather Channel app, a forecasting service owned by The Weather Company, whose assets IBM bought for a reported $2 billion in 2015. (It is perhaps worth noting that David Kenny, former CEO of The Weather Company and later head of IBM’s artificial intelligence business, recently became CEO of Nielsen, the world’s largest market research company.)

Here’s the heart of the controversy: When The Weather Channel app requests permission to access a user’s location, it says it requires the information to offer “personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts.” The app’s automatic pop-up box fails to mention that The Weather Company reserves the right to sell people’s geolocation data to advertisers and other third parties, like hedge funds, for a profit. That information is instead tucked away in a separate, nearly 10,000-word privacy policy, which one must seek out.

IBM maintains that its subsidiary has done no wrong. In response to the lawsuit, Saswato Das, an IBM spokesperson, said in a statement emailed to Fortune that “The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously.”

That’s one view. Another view is that The Weather Company breached people’s trust in a way that recalls the transgressions of rival tech companies—transgressions Rometty herself criticized.

In truth, no one’s hands are entirely clean, even if some infractions are more glaring than others. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last year told Congress that Facebook users are in control of their data and can delete them as they please, he subsequently dodged questions about so-called shadow profiles, the data his company maintains on people who are not users of Facebook services. Or consider Apple CEO Tim Cook, known to raise a stink about the “surveillance” practices of competitors, as he put it, while also speaking in Brussels. Cook stopped just short of naming the likes of Google and Facebook in his denunciation of advertising-based businesses; never mind that Google reportedly pays Apple billions of dollars to make its self-named search engine the default for Safari, Apple’s web browser.

Is it any wonder the world is undergoing a crisis of trust? Data privacy disclosures ought to be crystal clear. There should be no uncertainty about how one’s data are being used or where they’re flowing. During her talk in Brussels, Rometty told the audience that consumers “have very little power against the dominant internet platform companies.” In the absence of informed consent, she’s right.

A version of this article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter Data Sheet.

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