LISBON— An annual gathering of techies and pundits that often celebrates technology’s possibilities was a little sadder and maybe wiser after a year that’s revealed the weaknesses of many digital institutions to human abuse.
Privacy—both its inadequacy and the mischief made possible by a lack of it—figured heavily at Web Summit this year.
“I think for a very long time in the U.S., we were prepared to accept innovation without holding it accountable for consequences,” Federal Trade Commission commissioner Terrell McSweeny said on a panel Thursday. “I think that’s changing.”
She has some ideas on how to bring more power to consumers.
During a brief interview at Washington National Airport Friday, McSweeny, who was appointed to the FTC by President Obama, voiced her hope for “a serious conversation on privacy.” She put in a request for one feature: more data-portability options to take our information out of Web services and take that business elsewhere.
“It would make it easier for us to move our data around if we weren’t happy with a service, or if we weren’t happy with how a service was securing our data,” she told USA TODAY.
That’s true. But it’s also something that many sites seem in no rush to offer.
“For some generations, a certain amount of privacy is, I think, gone,” said Mozilla executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker in a talk Thursday.
But the head of the non-profit behind the Firefox browser suggested that newfound interest in how detailed tracking online can abet large-scale propaganda campaigns could lead to reform of what she called “the attention economy.”