Was 2012 the Year of Privacy?

As social technology continues to advance, privacy continues to get attention from the government, consumers and media. Privacy-based fears and concerns, whether legitimate or not, fueled many of the big privacy events in 2012. The following countdown gives you just a glimpse of online privacy from this past year.

10. United States vs. Jones: GPS Tracking
In January, convicted drug dealer Antoine Jones' had his verdict overturned after the government was found to have illegally used a GPS tracker to conduct a search on his vehicle. Consequently, the Supreme Court ruled that attaching a GPS device to a car constituted a search that required a warrant. This ruling resulted in the FBI having to put a stop to the 3,000 trackers it had distributed into the field.

9. Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Tech Giants Agree on Mobile App Privacy
California AG Kamala Harris formed an agreement in February with tech giants Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft that requires online service apps sold in their digital app stores to post a privacy policy. We would later see Delta Air Lines in a major lawsuit for ignoring the warning and failing to comply with this piece of legislation. Delta could see a fine of up to $2,500 for each violation, leading to a multi-million dollar penalty.

8. The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights
The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights was released by the Obama Administration in February, and sought to improve consumers' privacy protections. The bill is part of an effort to limit the collection of personal data from companies by giving users more control over how their personal information is used on the Internet.

7. General Petraeus Email Scandal
The life and distinguished career of CIA Director General Petraeus came unhinged after the FBI uncovered his extramarital affair by investigating e-mails sent from his mistress to a family friend. The investigation prompted questions about e-mail privacy and how far government's eyes can wander.

6. Google Hit With Multi-Million Dollar Fine
The Federal Trade Commission levied a $22.5 million fine against Google for invasion of privacy by planting tracking cookies on Apple's Safari browser. Software cookies help websites and browsers identify users. In addition to paying the fine, Google agreed to remove all tracking cookies it placed on the computers of Safari users by 2014.

5. Electronic Communications Privacy Act
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill at the end of November that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before gaining access to personal e-mails. Although the bill did not make it through Congress in 2012, it will be up for negotiations this year. The bill's approval was the first step toward the overhaul of the outdated 1986 ECPA law that governs e-mail access.

4. Facebook No Longer a Democracy
Facebook's decision to take away the right to vote on policy changes was greeted by outrage from its users. In order to keep the right to vote, Facebook said it would require a 30 percent vote of its one billion users. 60 million users would have had to vote for it to count, but only 600,000 cast their ballots. The changes under consideration include updating privacy language and its data use policy.

3. Netflix-Facebook Bill
A new piece of legislation that did make its way to Obama's desk was the NetFlix-Facebook bill, which allows Facebook to post what its users watch on NetFlix, with their permission. The bill serves as an update to the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act.

2. FTC Updates Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
The Federal Trace Commission's amendments to COPPA now limit the collection of information about a child under 13 over newer technology like mobile apps and social networks. Under the new changes, children's personal information like their location, contact details, names of friends, photos etc. cannot be collected unless a parent first gives permission. The updated legislation is a part of a major effort to protect children under 13 from being exploited online.

1. Instagram's Failed Attempt At A New 'Terms of Service'
Photo-sharing service Instagram updated its Terms of Service in an effort to provide clarity around privacy, but did so without notification or compensation. This decision received an overwhelming amount of backlash and forced the company to revert back to its original policy. AppData reports that Instagram has lost 25 percent of its daily active users since it made its announcement.

New technologies mean new privacy risks, and as technology continues to advance this coming year, we will see 2013 as the year of privacy on steroids. Check back with us next week, as we go into more detail on what privacy has in store for us in the year to come.

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