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Microsoft executive Craig Mundie believes that “data misuse” should be criminalized.

“Personally, I’d make [data misuse] a felony. Without that, the downside is too low.  We should make it a serious crime to subvert those mechanisms,” Mundie said at the EmTech 2013 conference at MIT’s Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By “data misuse,” Mundie means corporations mining data from citizens to use either for marketing purposes or to hand over to the government. The NSA uses a software program called “PRISM” to mine for data collected from mass surveillance. Since the inception of PRISM in 2007, many online corporations have been accused of collaborating with the program by providing information gleaned from its users.

One of these corporations is Microsoft itself. According to The Guardian, Microsoft has turned over data mined from Skype, Outlook.com, and Hotmail. The newspaper further reveals that audio portions of Skype sessions have always been available to the NSA, while video interception began in 2012. Microsoft denies allegations of supplying information provided by the average customer, but does admit that they “comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers.”

Yahoo!, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Dropbox have faced similar accusations.

Mundie went on to explain that while we can no longer stop corporations like this from using our personal information, we can make the process much more difficult for them. This includes more customer compliance: for example, when someone “allows” their smartphone access to their GPS location, they have no idea where that information will go. Mundie would like to see more companies be upfront to their customers about how they are using that data. The customer can then decide to “allow” their data to be mined after they are given a disclosure.

Part of Mundie’s proposal is the creation of digital rights management technology. Katherine Frase, Ph.D, VP and CTO of Global Public Sector for IBM, believes creating that software is possible, but the problem lies in enforcing the app to disclose information on how a customer’s data is being used.

In the case of Facebook, the social network uses data in order to target advertisements. Facebook users are already aware that they view different advertisements depending on where they live, their age, their gender, and even their interests. They may not know that Facebook collects data beyond what is filled out in the “about” section of a user’s profile. Facebook combs through your actions, messages sent, and comments made.

Facebook isn’t the only website that uses information to target ads; other social media platforms and email providers do so as well.

Whether your information on electronics or the Internet is being given to the NSA or companies for advertising, customers are worrying about their online and smart phone privacy. Maybe it’s time to legislate data mining. What do you think?

Sources:

Darrow, Barb. “We should criminalize data misuse, says Microsoft exec.”

http://gigaom.com/2013/10/10/we-should-criminalize-data-misuse-says-microsoft-exec/. (10 Oct. 2013).

Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo.  “Report: Microsoft Helped the NSA Spy on Hotmail, Skype and Outlook.” http://mashable.com/2013/07/11/miscrosoft-helped-nsa-spy-hotmail-skype-outlook/. (10 Oct. 2013).

“PRISM (surveillance program).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PRISM_(surveillance_program). (10 Oct. 2013).

Sengupta, Somini. “What You Didn’t Post, Facebook May Still Know.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/technology/facebook-expands-targeted-advertising-through-outside-data-sources.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. (10 Oct. 2013).