Watching the Watchers

Personal privacy isn’t what it used to be. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, who called privacy on the Internet a “gray area.” He should know—Zuckerberg’s site has created a new culture of privacy, one in which people freely give up all sorts of information.
But this is one area that might not stay gray for long. With privacy advocates warning that the Internet is turning into a capitalist version of Big Brother and users increasingly concerned about the amount of information they’re giving up about themselves, the issue is drawing elected officials like—well, like politicians to a camera. Though legislation has been kicking around for the last few years, this looks like the year there could be real traction, spurred on by an administration that has prioritized all things Internet.
Meanwhile, the industry isn’t giving up without a fight, not when the Internet offers marketers an unprecedented opportunity to serve ads, services and content that people care about in a targeted way. So advertisers, industry associations and tech companies alike are suddenly moving quickly to self-regulate, hoping that if they get there first, they can keep the government from doing it for them.
This year’s round of debates opens this week in the Senate, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who chairs the Commerce Committee, is set to convene a hearing. Here’s our guide to the players.