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Worried about google: was -> Re: chrome, Google DNS

On 1/16/2010 4:21 PM, Stephen Adler wrote:
> I must say, I'm worried about google's dominance of information. [snip]
> Does anyone share this feeling of privacy violation? 

As Americans, we enjoy a lot of _practical_ privacy, but very little
_statutory_ privacy: Europe is ahead of us in providing legal protection
for private matters.

The adoption of computer technology in all areas of our lives
(government, health care, finance, commerce, and personal communication)
has made inroads into the kinds of privacy we talk about, but not what
we theoretically have: commercial database vendors have been trading the
details of our purchasing patterns, telephone calling patterns, TV
viewing habits, and political preferences for decades.

What's different now is not the scale or the brand name: it's the kind
of information that's available to the world. Although Google, as a
company, may have grown to the point where its size is a red flag,
Google didn't start the process Stephen is alluding to. As a nation, we
are in transition from a system that identifies _places_ (e.g. the
location a phone call came from and went to) to a system that identifies
_people_ (e.g. calls between cell phones). Although this distinction may
seem more theoretical than actual, it's nonetheless real: the new
paradigm makes possible direct correlation between the actions of
individuals, without the need to aggregate large amounts of data in
order to make statistical inferences.

I've said before, in other forums, that the generation which grew up
with social media (Instant messaging, then photo-centric websites, and
then SMS-based systems such as Twitter) is the first one in our history
to lose the last bastion of practical privacy that baby-boomers such as
I still enjoy: the database mavens now know the names of our children's
friends. Those children are about to get their first hard lesson about
what commercial databases make possible: they're almost ready to go on
their first big "acquisition process", buying their first car, their
first house, their first brand of disposable diaper, and their first
life insurance contract.

You might ask yourself "How's that different"? The answer is that
anonymous salesmen who might be half a world away will now know the
names of your friends, and the odds are overwhelming that if a salesman
mentions your friend's name, you _will_ give him the all-important first
minute that he needs to make his pitch.  Taking advantage of friendship
to make a sale is, in itself, nothing new: I recall John Prine's famous
lament about how all _his_ friends turned out to be insurance salesmen,
and charitable organizations have been recruiting local busybodies to
make appeals on their behalf for many years.

What's different is the scale: the social maps that AOL, FacePage, and
Twitter are building will cause ripple effects throughout our society
for years to come.

    * Is Bill a "good" employee? HR managers will be able to find out
      who his friends are and recruit them.
    * Is Bill a union organizer? The sword cuts both ways.
    * Did Bill once hang around with someone who's been convicted of a
      crime? Twenty years later, it's still going to be available for
      anyone with the price of admission to see. _Anyone_.
    * Does Bill take part in political campaigns? If Bill's friend comes
      across some dangerous information about a sitting civil servant,
      and starts shopping it to the media outlets, a call from Bill
      might make the difference.

... the list goes on, and it will be put to as many uses as there are
ways to shame people in order to exercise power.

You heard it hear first: in the coming years, the maximum value of this
accumulated information won't be in the ways that it can influence a
buying decision, but rather in the fact that the privilege of keeping it
secret will _also_ be for sale.


Bill Horne

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