Thailand’s government recently implemented laws that gave it a tighter control of the internet than ever before, allowing enforcement of new lese majeste laws, and making it easier than ever to catch internet predators and other criminals. The infrastructure and procedures put in place have been mind-boggling, to catch up with technology. However, the threats of the internet are never ending, and online privacy is slowly being eroded with newer targeted advertising options by Google, as well as various search engines. Thai legal services comment on the role of Thailand law in preventing this erosion of privacy, as well as making recommendations for internet users.
Two of the new services by Google that have caused such outcry among Thai legal services and ordinary citizens concerned with privacy, are advertising-based. While advertising is in many ways the tool that keeps the internet alive, and is a necessary evil, some Thailand lawyers feel that the search giant has overstepped its mark with some new services. The first is a geolocation technique, which would allow Google to pinpoint your exact whereabouts, when you are connected to the internet with a mobile device, and then forward that information directly to advertisers. It is designed so that stores close to your physical location could advertise directly to you.
Prima facie, this is a good thing – advertising becomes more relevant to you, and is more likely to get a result for the advertiser. However, privacy experts in Thai law are concerned with the fact that once the information goes into Google’s databases, there is no disclosure of what happens to it. Better transparency by Google has been called for by many. These calls increased after a 2007 survey which ranked Google last on privacy issues, in a field of 23 major companies. In the survey, Google was the only company to earn the lowest possible score for ‘comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy’. It is these policies and rankings which have Thai law consulting services worried when it comes to privacy issues.
Google’s other service which has drawn such criticism from Thailand’s lawyers is the targeted advertising on their usual search engines and affiliated websites. Now, Google is launching a new program to deliver advertising based on a user’s browsing history, not only on the specific page being viewed at the time. If you spend a lot of time surfing pages regarding skiing, for example, Google will deliver you more skiing-related ads, and fewer unrelated ones. While advertisers have been pushing for this for years, consumers and law firms in Thailand are up in arms.
Of course, governments only have a responsibility to ensure that the internet in a country isn’t being used to contravene that country’s laws. And naturally, web-based initiatives require huge amounts of resources. Google and other internet giants are able to put these resources in because there is money to be made, however, Thailand as a whole would benefit little for a large resource investment in countering these privacy breaches.
Instead, Thailand legal services and other Thai law experts are advising that consumers take measures to protect themselves. Google is offering an opt-out option for the program, and consumers can also use history-erasing programs to ensure information is removed from their computers. People search engines like Pipl, CVGadget, Spokeo and Rapleaf have also brought information together on the internet in a way that is disturbing to consumers. Thai law firms are advising to opt out of these services also, as well as setting profile pages to private in services like Amazon, MySpace, Facebook and Pandora.
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