Thursday, April 14, 2011

I've Got My Eye on You

Database Nation, Simon Garfinkle's prescient book, depicts our society as being under constant surveillance, where privacy is but a dream and little can be done to stop it. David Brin's Transparent Society also deals with this issue with the added notion that openness is the only way to maintain freedom because privacy is forever gone and tit for tat is the only viable way to go to keep liberty alive, a position BRT supports without question as we have seen what opacity has done to this country regarding governance, finance and business.

On a personal note, the NYTimes excellent primer titled How to Fix (Or Kill) Web Data About You, provides sound advice on how to limit the damage while trolling on the web.

"If you want to try to manage privacy, the obvious first place to start is with the search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo, exactly where other people will most likely go to check you out. Run keyword searches of your name, address, phone numbers and other identifying data and see what turns up. Don’t stop after the first few pages of search results. While they will be the most influential, the embarrassing or forgotten tidbits can show up on page six and beyond, warns Andy Beal, co-author of “Radically Transparent,” a book about monitoring and managing online reputations, and a consultant who says he has helped people get information removed from the Web.

Also look for online accounts you opened but don’t use anymore, especially on social networks or dating sites where you would have provided extensive personal information. Not only can people dig up details, as the Mashable blog recently did when it posted what appeared to be information about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s online dating life, but the site you entrusted data to could change its privacy practices or be acquired by a company with different policies.

If you’re daunted by this research job, there are companies willing to do the work for you. The privacy software start-up Abine charges $99 a year for quarterly reports detailing the information available about you online."

Because of the ability of sites to siphon information about you is so pervasive, senators Kerry and McCain are proposing a new consumer privacy law that begins to move toward the concept of the right to be left alone.

"Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday made a bipartisan call for new legislation to protect consumer privacy on the Internet.

In introducing the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, Mr. Kerry cited the 107 trillion e-mails that were sent last year and the nearly 600 million Facebook users as proof of how much consumers used the Internet.

“Every single day each of us produces a staggering amount of personal information on the Internet,” Mr. Kerry said in a news conference with reporters. “That journey can be tracked, it can be stored and it can be shared on an almost unimaginable scale.”

The privacy “rights” would ensure that companies that collected data implemented security measures to protect that data. It would also require companies to provide consumers with notice about what data were being collected and allow them to opt-out if they chose."

Whether this will work, "One never knows, do one?" - Fats Waller

IMHO, Tit for Tat is the only valid solution to the loss of privacy as it levels the playing field for those doing the surveilling on those who are being surveilled against. Brin shows how this concept can work in elegant fashion in Transparent Society.

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