I’ve posted before about how legal related issues and cases are beginning to catch up and carve out the landscape for online business. The public explosion of the SOPA debate served notice that the online community can galvanize, apparently at a moment’s notice. To help keep track of recent developments, I’ve put together a quick summary of what happened in the first half of February.

Google’s New Privacy Policy

As written about by Danny Goodwin, Google explained their privacy policy before Congress. As noted by others including Danny, the change is pretty straight forward. Google has accumulated and grown a number of services over the years, but these products were patched together with different privacy policies. Essentially, this revision allows Google to treat all of their programs as one, so a Google search can take into account recent YouTube activity to tailor results, for example. Simple.

However, Congress has batted this around, concerned by things such as violating HIPPA policy, which is a good question, but ultimately not a legitimate concern. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, while normally a group I advocate listening to, is suing Google saying this violates an aggreement which Google made with the FTC while developing Google Buzz. This case does fall into EPIC’s main focus, however the opt out portion is pretty clearly stated by Google, and in the case of advertising, is pretty safe compared to less scrupulous means of tracking.

European Developments

Europe’s stance on internet related actions always serves as an interesting contrast to the American approach. One such topic should be monitored as European Union is enforcing a new law in May 2012, which will require all users of a website to consent to have their information tracked, and a cookie to be placed on their computer. So, imagine clicking on a foreign comparison engine, being directed to a retail site, and then having to opt-in to allow your activity to be tracked. It’s safe to say many consumers will decline, which raises all sorts of tracking and attribution related issues for businesses. To think, May is right around the corner.

Occasionally France is good for a laugh, and that’s true with their recent decision to penalize Google for offering Google Maps for free. France is famous (or notorious depending on your perspective), for protecting their national interests, including those of competing French mapping companies. To be fair, this same treatment helped create the French fashion industry, by helping to maintain the prestige of key brands. So, this seems to be a case where Google must simply pay up to do business in France ($660K in this case).

On the other side of the coin, my distant kin in the Czech Republic have allowed Google Street View to continue their work. Some key points have been worked out including allowing citizens to petition for the removal of personal information. So, at least Google has some good news across the pond.

Taxes, Taxes, and Taxes

Did someone say online sales taxes were coming closer? Virginia recent voted to close a loop hole which allowed Amazon to avoid collecting sales tax in the state, so momentum builds  for some type of solution. In New Jersey, Amazon is working with legislators for a 22 month amnesty before collecting sales taxes at the Garden State, allowing for warehouses and jobs to be created in the state. This holds with Amazon’s strategy of conceding the payment of sales tax around 2014. Whether this is because Amazon expects to have physical stores by then, or just expects the sales tax issue to be handled federally, or both, is still unclear.

RIP: SOPA and PIPA

I wouldn’t be doing my part without lending some additional thought to SOPA and PIPA. Recently the Recording Industry Association of America (RRIA) President Cary Sherman, criticized Google and Wikipedia for becoming politically active instead of taking a neutral stance in the matter, comparing Google to a television station’s position of giving neutral coverage. Of course this is a pretty narrow point of view of the issue in criticizing Google for defending a key principle of the internet, but to be fair, SOPA and PIPA were founded on fundamentally good intentions of helping to curb online piracy of content. Noting that the music industry’s company VEVO showed pirated content at their own event, it’s pretty obvious that there is a fine line in sharing content, and intentionally stealing content for personal gain. While I would love to embrace Chris Anderson’s view that we are moving toward free information, there simply must be mechanisms in place to make sure content is controlled how it’s creator intends. It’s more and more obvious that copyright law is outdated overall, including how to enforce key provisions of unique content. In the new world of digital communication, a new way of operating is needed. The most important question, is how that should happen.

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