The European Parliament is worried about your data sitting dormant on websites of all kinds and last week began formal discussions to further regulate personal data on the Internet. Greek Member of the European Parliament Stavros Lambrinidis is preparing a report for a plenary session in Strasbourg calling for "more stringent and efficient means of user data protection." Australia, China, Singapore, and Japan also had similar legislative stirrings in recent weeks.
The industry spent a dozen years fighting US Congressman Ed Markey's (D-MA) efforts to regulate the Internet. Markey, though, just passed the chairmanship of the House Subcommittee responsible for telecommunications, technology and the Internet to one of the House's most tech-savvy Congressmen, Rick Boucher (D-VA).
As the 1960 boatlift Cubans in Miami claissically lamented, "We prayed for the overthrow of Batista; then we got Castro!" High on Boucher's list of priorities is a bill to regulate privacy of Internet users. Of most concern to online gaming businesses will be a specific "opt-in" clause for users before data can be shared with other providers.
Why the sudden activity? Congress, Parliament and most governmental bodies seize their opportunities from headlines. This has been quite a few weeks with scandals providing fuel. NBC News reported recently that a back door existed in many popular music file-sharing programs that could allow hackers into one's computer to download tax forms, university applications and personal bank account information.
Recently, Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman's website allowed anyone to download his entire donor database, including addresses and credit card numbers. MSNBC's interviewed data security expert Adria Richards, who found the security issue and reported it on her blog. The Coleman gaffe could crimp his plans to continue his challenge against Al Franken for that long-disputed Senate seat. Could you imagine a solicitation letter for Coleman's legal challenge fund including the line, "Sorry, please send more money and by the way, you need to get a new credit card?"
Elsewhere, Facebook was thrown into a crisis over a minor change in its website Terms and Conditions (T&C) allowing them to keep your data indefinitely — mostly because it is too difficult to erase from 115 million users. So loud was the uproar that they changed it back to their original terms.
This type of change could affect your poker/gaming sites. What can you do to protect your data already out there on the Web? If you cease doing business with a gaming site, make sure to delete your account and all personal info. Write to the company and ask them to delete your account and all personal information. Same for the payment agencies they use.
No matter where you play, change and update your info regularly. Don't automatically store passwords; use a simple password saver program and auto-generator.
Examine what data is stored on your 'my account' page and is no longer needed and can be deleted. I've left five or six online poker sites during the last three years and never thought much about the issue of data protection; my personal info, including a faxed copy of my passport's main page, sits in one site's office.
Also, check your computer's msconfig file periodically to see what programs start automatically and run all the time. Aside from improving speed and performance of your machine, there is no need for a lot of these programs to run 24/7 and some of these are where trojans and other malware programs can attach themselves and compromise your files.
A change of this magnitude could, conceivably, affect security on the operator side, making it more difficult for sites to find bots, colluders and multi-accounting players, and thereby make it more difficult to keep the online game safe and fair for all. In the UK, data-protection laws are interpreted with such strict, minute detail that even trying to arrange a furniture delivery, if my wife purchased it, is impossible, because, "They must speak to the person who placed the order."
With the US, EU and Asia looking independently at the issue, any result will have little impact on those who steal data for a living; they will simply find another way. It could, though, create a confusing maze of tougher standards for all and would be difficult to maintain and implement.
For an industry deeply involved in a fight to overthrow UIGEA, this issue is among the thorniest. Since Congress, Parliament and regulators are not known for taking smart action, this is one fight to watch and weigh in on early.
Editor's note: Contributing columnist Denis Campbell brings an independent and experienced eye to poker's political scene. Campbell has worked closely in the past with former Cabinet Secretaries in the Carter and Clinton administrations, Ambassadors and members of Congress. He offers commentary on US and UK politics for the BBC and Huffington Post, and is currently the editor-in-chief of UK Progressive Magazine. Here, Denis offers his insights on matters affecting poker. Denis' views do not necessarily reflect those of PokerNews.
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