Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Op-Ed: Data Mining and the Death of Privacy

I probably should have mentioned here that I would be gone for 8 days on a rigorous privacy fact finding mission in Hawaii. Okay, it wasn't rigorous, and it had nothing to do with privacy, but I did snorkel and invade the privacy of numerous dolphins :)

At any rate, I am back from a much needed vacation, and ready to tackle the kinds of feel good stories we love to discuss here, from crimes against the Constitution, invasions of personal privacy by monolithic forces, to our rapidly (de) evolving Orwellian Society :)

Today's op-ed is a little over a week old, but it expands on some of the data mining issues that Bruce Scheier touched on in the last article I posted here. The piece was written by John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine, and entitled "Data Mining and the Death of Privacy".

As I said in my last post's introduction to Bruce Scheier's piece: Whether the issue is security breaches and identity theft, financial privacy and the banking lobby, e-health records, or cloud computing technologies, certainly one question that each can force the consumer to ponder is "Where is my data?"!

One last point, our friends over at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse - a nonprofit organization that specializes in consumer information and advocacy - has some important recommendations for how to keep your data as safe as possible in today's information intensive world.

Most important, is for consumers to avoid putting all of their free-services eggs into one basket. For example, don't use all of Google's free services, such as gmail, google search, and google docs. Instead, use a free email service of one provider, and choose search from another provider, etc.

Now, with no further ado, here are a few choice clips and the link to today's article:

As you read this column, someone somewhere is probably lurking in your life, plowing through everything you do online to try to learn more about you. And while there are plenty of reasons why a person might want to do this, here's the most likely one: He or she is finding a way to rob you blind by selling you lots of stuff you probably don't need. Why do you acquiesce? Because this person knows your hot buttons well.

Deep information about individuals has always been the holy grail of marketers. If I know everything about your tastes, likes and dislikes, attitudes, and even casual thoughts, I'll bet I can find something you want to buy, and persuade you to buy it from me. Google is now the most dangerous company in the world, not only because it constantly acquires this deep information, but because it keeps striving to do it better and better.


Google has your search information; all the searches you've ever done are documented. It has all the e-mails you've written, and all your tweets are next. Not to mention your blog posts, spreadsheets, and who knows what else. No wonder the company's motto is "Don't be evil." Because the potential is certainly there.

Now I believe that Google does not want to be evil with all this data. It wants to sell advertising. Let's face it, who needs the aggravation of finding a way to exploit every little step you take? What difference does it make to Google whether you are pro-life or a vegan or a member of the alliance to save the red-crested hornbeam? There is some sales angle, yes, but nothing sinister, right?

Well, not on the part of Google. But what about others who may eventually get access to this treasure trove of data? What about a political party that wants to monitor the "enemy"? You have noticed that since the days of Dick Nixon the word "enemy" is used openly to describe the people who do not support the party in power, right? This is a term I do not take lightly. It's loaded and betrays the mind-set of the person using the term. It's not good.

As we see the continuing consolidation of, and even the possible monopolization of information technologies, the concern and fear that forces beyond our control have access to EVERYTHING we've nearly ever done will only grow...as will the likelihood that this "power" will be abused...at our expense.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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