I will try to follow Alexandra’s format from last week. This week’s assignment included: “Scroogled” by Cory Doctorow, “Facebook’s Move Ain’t About Changes in Privacy Norms” by Danah Boyd, “Search Me” and “Short of Anonymous” from On the Media, “This Week In Google 25: The People’s Republic of Google”.
Scroogled is an interesting fictional stroy from Cory Doctorow. In the story, the protagonist Greg comes to learn about how Google has come to work with the Department of Homeland Security to provide information about specific individuals. It is a very interesting concept that Doctorow explores into. At immigration check-point in a airport, the security officials use what type of ads pop up based on a person’s search queries. Greg is scrutinized and thoroughly investigated due to having model rocket ads being shown up in his ads. From his friend Maya, he comes to learn that Google agreed on a deal with the government to provide service in exchange for more freedom to conduct business as they desire.
Even more shocking is that Google is everywhere and government is watching you everywhere. Once a person like Greg is flagged at the airport, they can be followed and checked for “suspicious patterns” by cameras on the street and search queries and e-mails. Maya, using her programming skills, developed a program called Googleclean to turn a person like Greg into a normalized individual. Life seems normal at first after this, but Maya learns that her program is being used by Google to promote political agendas. Maya is scared by this and the fact that DHS officials know of her dubious activies and flees to Mexico. Meanwhile, Greg is contacted by “consultant” to work for Google to perfect Maya’s Googleclean, so that it can be better used to promote secret political consipiracy. On his first day back, Greg learns Maya killed her self in Guatamala.
From a personal standpoint, while I think this is an interesting take on Google’s ubiquitous nature in the modern world, it is completely unrealistic. There is absolutely no way that it will ever become possible to use search logs and advertisment being served to judge a person on a legal level. From a legal standpoint, you can only tie back information from cookies to a computer, not to an invidual and in this modern day where many people use multiple computers (including smartphones), correctly identifying a person to a political agenda is impossible to perform. Yes, the information can be useful in business and advertising perspective, because business function by probability and numbers. Government, especially when it enters the legal territory, functions in a black-or-white, legal-or-illiegal world. I am very intrigued by the concept of Googleclean; however, it already exists. Deleting your cookies will do the trick and opting out of Google’s ad preferences will also “normalize” you. Just go to www.google.com/ads/preferences.
In this short internet radio segnment from On the Media, Google’s Marissa Mayer discusses how Google’s information collection from search queries work and about Google’s policy to promote more privacy. Starting point of the discussion centers around how Google’s Chrome browser will make all personal data collected anonymous within 24 hours and how all ada collected from searches will be made anonymous in 9 months instead of previous 18 months. (One thing I believe Bob Garfield made mistake with stating this is that all information will be deleted after these periods, not made anonymous. Any information being collected is already anonymous for Google or any other search engines.)
Marissa Mayer states that “you are giving up some personal information, but you are gaining a lot of familiarity.” She also clears up that “first thing to understand on search logs is that they are not personally identifiable. We don’t know who you are,. So we don’t know your name, or your e-mail address, or information that would tie your searches to you.”
As an employee of Google, Mayer is saying the “right” thing and some may think that she is corporate-speaking. However, from a person who is working with Google’s data on a day-to-day basis, much of what she says is just the fact. It simply is true. Personal information are not collected, but just your acivities and preferences are monitored, and while that does sound controlling and scary, much of it is used for the benefit of the user as well.
Short of Anonymous
In the “Short of Anonymous” segment from On the Media, Alissa Cooper, the Chief Computer Scientiest of the Center for Democracy and Technology, discusses the limitations of Google guaranteeing anonymity. She mentions that the definition of “anonymized” is flexible in a sense that while it is true that Google data cannot identify you as a person, it can be used to infer who you are indirectly. She states that “information in the logs that they hold can probably sill be tied back to an individual” despite the fact that information by itself will not identify the individual.
Bob Garfield summarizes nicely that “I can set my own degree of privacy on my browser for more or less utility from that same browser”. What he says is very true; allowing your browser to collect more information can provide you with more utility in a sense that your internet experience can be catered and personalized for you. However, that also mean the browser and search engines need more information from you to provide that utility. For instance, on Amazon, it will tell you what products you might like and what products you might be interested in based on the information they collect from you browsing history and purchasing behavior. Or they will send people e-mail on promotions and discounts on certain items based on that data. This can be useful and nice, but it also involves letting them know more about me.
Facebook’s Move Ain’t About Changes in Privacy Norms
In this blog, Danah Boyd discusses the latest statement from Mark Zuckerberg that “the age of privacy is over” and that sharing information with the public is the norm now. Boyd argues that this is not the case and making being public a norm should not be the case. He states that being private should be the default and becoming public should be by choice. While the choice is stil there, Boyd argues that there does exist a difference in what is the “default” setting. Boyd also argues that this move by Facebook and Zuckerberg is purely a business decision trying to gather more information to use for revenue generating activities, and Boyd states that what Zuckerberg is trying to suggest by saying that being public is the norm in modern world is just a ploy to legitimize their information collecting activities.
Boyd makes a very logical argument that makes a lot of sense. And I can honestly say that he made me confused as to how I stand on this issue. Before I had believed the same thing Zuckerberg stated. I thought being public is becoming the norm and people want to almost “overshare” their lives. However, on principal what Boyd suggests is convincing in that the default should be the choice to remain private. Yet there also is the counter-argument that Facebook can choose to do whatever they want and since people are following how Facebook wants people to be public by default then Facebook can make it remain that way. Facebook is not obliged to philosophical goodness or rightness. Honestly, I am a bit torn in how I should stand on this issue.
This Week In Google 25: The People’s Republic of Google
In this Internet TV segment, Leo Laporte, Gina Trapini, Jeff Jarvis, and Siva Vaidhyanathan discuss opinions and implications around the latest statement from Google that they will pull out of China unless Google is allowed to keep their information data away from the Chinese government.
As Siva Vaidhyanathan mentions 30% of Chinese population is amazing potential revenue and pulling out of China would be a huge risk. However, as he also points out, if Google’s security is compromised by the Chinese governemnt and if an anti-goverment political activist is arrested based on g-mail documents or search queries, Google might face a dangerous situation with public discontent. As Google’s mantra states, Vaidhyanathan suggests that this move is in line with “Don’t Do Evil”. In other words, Google seems to be taking the route of lesser risk over greater risk.
Jeff Jarvis agrees with Vaidhyanathan on this point, stating that “Doing evil is bad business”. However, the point on which Vaidhyanathan and Jarvis seems to be in disagreement over is whether Google was motivated by purely business strategy of avoiding risk, or if Google was motivated to promote free speech as well. Jarvis is on the side that Google wanted to not just avoid evil, but promote good as well through supporting free sppech.
Viadhyanathan also brings up an interesting point. He says “it’s not a total bluff that they will pull out of China. It is a total bluff that they will run an un-filtered, un-censored web search project in China on Google.cn….The reason why this is important in a larger sense is that Google is making a stand for the internet itself…Google is the first company to openly speak about the level of attacks and level of vulnerability….They cannot stand for this level for aggresive intrusion.” This is somewhat pessimistic view on Google’s decision, but also a very shrewd and realistic observation. Chinese government will not succumb completely to Google’s demands, and Google cannot possibly expect Chinese government to completely change. However, as Vaidhyanathan states, Google seems to be looking for the compromise point.
Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani believe that the move by Google is driven a lot by ego and is 4 years late. They state that there seems to tech geek ego of being offended by security breach and this could be a brilliant PR move to cover-up the security breach. To a certain extent that seems natural and true. However, Jarvis continues to believe that motiviation to do good was involved in Google’s decision.