Users do have choices on the Web, of course. The freedom to go elsewhere is the very nature of the Internet. Microsoft, for example, is now advertising itself as an alternative to Google in better honoring privacy. Twitter, too, is a good option for retaining one’s privacy.
Congress seems stymied in writing new laws that would guard Web privacy. It must balance the Internet’s huge economic benefits against better protection of consumers. A recent Commerce Department report called on Congress to pass laws that would give more choice and control to consumers over the Internet or cellphone information being collected about them.
Even the Supreme Court is highly divided in how to protect privacy in an age of fast-changing technologies. In a ruling last month against police placing a global positioning system (GPS) device on a suspect’s car, the justices all agreed in the decision but differed widely in their reasoning.
Some justices prefer to leave open the question of what is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, wondered if users of technology really know their privacy options. “I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on,” she wrote.