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Companies competing to protect our privacy?

It’d be an exaggeration to say that tech companies are falling over themselves to protect our privacy, but you might say that it’s becoming a “social norm” for US businesses. At least, that’s what the New York Times reports, and that must be at least a sign that it’s true because it’s far from normative for newspapers to report good news. As evidence, the Times cites a Microsoft executive saying on a conference panel that there are “market forces at play with privacy”; “Mozilla, an underdog in the browser market, [suggesting] … that it would allow its users to disable third-party tracking software altogether”; Facebook requiring apps “to offer customers a privacy policy”; and Apple requiring iPhone apps “to get permission from users before tracking their location or peering into calendars and contacts stored on an iPhone.” And the Times cites a law professor as saying more and more companies are “emphasizing consumer data protection” and an industry analyst as saying that “consumer trust is an increasingly vital commodity for Web companies.” Whether it’s to stave off regulation or not, this is good news for Internet users.

Social norms, wherever we see them developing, are good; they’re protective, an increasingly important form of protection in a world where regulation is getting more and more distributed, from individual self-regulation to corporate self-regulation to the regulation that comes from government enforcing laws. [See also “What the Net privacy big picture has to do with parenting.”]

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