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Week 2 Summary

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.

Search Me

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.

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  1. mushon 00:00, Feb 1st, 10

    Good work. Looking forward to the discussion in here and later in class. Just a small notice that danah boyd is a she, not a he. I would also love to get your own input on the last piece. I found the strongest issue there is that what Google is there to protect is the trust in the cloud – that’s their biggest investment, and in my view that’s what they’re trying to protect (with all due respect to human rights and free speech).

  2. ElzbthMllr 09:07, Feb 1st, 10

    Of all of the posts this week danah boyd’s resonated the most with me. I believe fiercely in defending my privacy. I don’t have Facebook specifically because this is a concern of mine. I’ve always felt that the tradeoff of not being on Facebook has been worth it. Yes, I’d miss out on things that I want to see from facebook (recent pictures of my nephew in DC for example), but that in the long-term I was sticking more to my firmly held beliefs that I want my life to remain private. Of course after attempting almost an entire week without Google, which I’ll post about tomorrow, I realize not being on Facebook is hardly the beginning of being “private” person. I fear I’m in an uphill battle and it has nothing to do with being one of the only three people in my family and friends know that are not Facebook (one is my 92 year old grandfather). The aggregation of data around me and about me seems to be endless. Is there anyway out? I’m having flashbacks to The Trap! Also, another great example of the issues surrounding data collection and privacy is the following from the ACLU’s “Surveillance Campaign” http://www.aclu.org/pizza/ (of course I’m sure there is a better version of this somewhere on YouTube, alas, challenge week is not over). I wonder if we’re really that far away from this type of surveillance, New Yorkers have already grown accustomed to online ordering for food via tools like seamesslweb.com and delivery.com after all.

    I tend to be cynical about Google’s motives and when I was listening to the podcast, it really resonated with me, that this was sort of some brilliant PR move on their part to protect their own interests, trying to divert attention away from any security issues they may be having. In Siva’s piece on Google and China, I didn’t necessarily buy the comment that Esther Dyson’s made “The great virtue of the Internet is that it erodes power, it sucks power out of the center, and takes it to the periphery, it erodes the power of institutions over people, while giving to individuals the power to run their own lives. Google is part of that. It’s one of these things that shines light on everything, it enables people to find stuff out, it enables them to question what their governments are doing, and it’s absolutely wonderful.” Of course, in theory I understand her point about accessing information, but after listening to the On The Media interviews with Cooper and Mayer, I’m not convinced that that really is what Google is doing with respect to all of its activities. I really wish the On The Media interview had pressed Marissa Mayer more about Google’s responsibility with respect to security and privacy issues. I felt the interview was pretty easy on her, and I would have liked to see her challenged on the issue as to whether or not decisions about privacy should be left up to the user. I definitely tend to agree with Alissa Cooper, of the Center for Democracy and Technology that it’s a complete cop-out that individuals can’t be well-informed enough to make their own privacy decisions. So inform them! That should be your responsibility, especially as you continue to make money off of me. This interview is from September of 2008, and I don’t see any evidence that Google is working hard to change the status quo (although admittedly I haven’t taken the opportunity to look very thoroughly for some). I think if Google really wanted to educate its user about those privacy issues, they would have. I’m fine with people wanting to put as much information about themselves out there that they want, as long as they understand its implications.

  3. Leslie 11:25, Feb 1st, 10

    I thought the Scroogled story was very interesting, too. I feel like the level of personal information that is being discussed could happen in the future, though. As technology becomes more and more advanced, the possibility to collect and interpret more detailed information definitely seems possible. What is done with it, I guess we’ll have to wait and see! Hopefully it won’t ever get to the point that’s presented in the story- that’s pretty scary!

    For “The People’s Republic of Google” audio clip, I think I agree with the idea that Google seems to be dealing with things from more of a business perspective, than a “do good” perspective. Whatever the motivation is, and even though it’s “4 years late,” it’s better that they finally did take action, rather than doing nothing at all.

  4. Alexandra Cale 14:51, Feb 1st, 10

    I thought the “Short of Anonymous” provided a great counterpoint to the “Search me” clip. The two things I found most alarming were that Google can pinpoint your IP address, which is almost essentially the same as your identity, and that your internet provider has all the information on you and your online activity anyway. Maybe we should be talking about ISPs instead of Google in terms of privacy laws!

    As for Scroogled, I definitely wanted to read on to see what happened next, but I do think it was a little over the top. I sincerely hope we never reach that level!

  5. HoniehBarak 19:44, Feb 1st, 10

    Scroogled caught my attention and when I first read it I was in complete shock. (I might have read it in the middle of the night haha). After a few days had passed, I realized I over reacted. I was telling everyone I know to remove themselves from Gmail and all other Google products. Now that the dust has settled, I agree with the rest of the class that this story was a bit exaggerated BUT not far fetched. This could happen in a few years. China is a perfect example of a government who likes to use Big Brother to watch over it’s people. Now as for the argument of Google keeping data and then transitioning into an anonymous (or deletable) I think its a load of crap. Why? Well because hackers are able to track your IP address, even if you in a masked Gateway they will be able to acquire this information or use an IP Sniffer. What is the difference between Google and a Geek sitting in front of PC armed with a bunch of servers and warez tools.

    Danah Boyd’s article was also interesting because of the default of being put into public space. I believe people should be set at a default of PRIVATE. When Facebook decided to update its privacy settings, it had enabled everything on my profile to be public. I honestly believe that this is a business tactic on Zuckerberg’s part as Dan has mentioned “just a ploy to legitimize their information collecting activities.”

  6. ryanverost@yahoo.com 01:50, Feb 2nd, 10

    All of these pieces tied together quite nicely. I actually didn’t know that the Scroogled story was fiction until I had an inkling halfway through while I was reading it. Then, after I finished, I verified my intuition by checking things out. More specifically, I looked at the homework assignment again and realized that it said “fiction”. I felt dumb for a second. What’s scary though is that I think that this is not that incredulous as it sounds. Although from the On the Media podcasts and Facebook story would have you believe that anonymity is maintained with Chrome and setting changes, I personally believe that the government can still get a hold of whatever they are willing to investigate if you seem to pose a threat to society. I do think, however, to contradict my last statement that our information does remain pretty anonymous from google searches and things along those lines. Yet, to further contradict myself, ‘they’ can still track you in other ways like if you use googlemaps (your address) or your internet service provider they can find out things in other ways that would circumvent the law.

    Marrisa Mayer definitely wasn’t asked any pressing questions according to one of the comments someone posted on that interview. From that, it was normal to hear her defend Google, but I think she framed her answers well enough to skirt certain inquires. But I am not scared about Google. I think Facebook can be a little more invasive because it has pictures and things of that nature that people can view.

    The article on China was the most compelling because of the nature of the debate between Google and another country who challenges Google was intense. I would argue that Google tried to reach some sort of a compromise with the Chinese government so that Google could have an impact in China, but at the end of the day the Chinese government still monitors the search engine. Besides, the ironic thing was that Google wasn’t even the most used search engine, which makes sense, because of the other one, Baidu.com has dominated the Chinese internet for a while, “China’s market leader, Baidu.com, controls more than 74 percent of the search market.” >>

    “At this point, however, it’s just potential money, and it’s just some China for Google. Google does not matter much in China right now. In 2009 Google controlled less that 21 percent of the China search market (as defined by the share of total searches; Google does much better as a share of search-based advertising revenue with 29.8 percent). That figure was more than two points lower than the last quarter of 2008, so Google’s market share was actually falling slightly in China in 2008-2009. Overall, the number of searches within China rose 41.2 percent between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. So even with just 21 percent of the searches, there is a lot of business to be done and money to be made. Nonetheless, Google is hardly the cultural and political factor in China that it is in North America and Europe”

    Is Google that greedy that it needs China, because it doesn’t seem that China needs Google????

  7. nadine 13:01, Feb 2nd, 10

    I’d like to bring an additional perspective about privacy and security: the problem isn’t only that governments or corporations can get a great amount of personal data. In Mexico, for example, where kidnapping is very common, criminals have used Facebook and Twitter information to trap their victims. On the other hand, companies increasingly check the profiles and information of their prospective or current employees on the net; there has been cases where people have lost their jobs because of compromising photos or statements on Facebook. However, we don’t even have to imagine extreme scenarios: Aren’t you bothered by the presence of your ex-boy/girl-friends in the social networks (even if you kick them out as your friends)? Although I highly appreciate the social networking sites, I feel like I have lost control about what information about myself is out there.
    Danah Boyd raises another interesting question I think we should discuss about the different social (dis-)advantages about social online networking. Her speech about the not so hidden politics of class online (thanks Elizabeth for the link)is really preoccupying.

  8. Harris 13:37, Feb 2nd, 10

    Scroogled “was a bit exaggerated BUT not far fetched”, right on Honieh.

    Dan, while IP addresses can be tied back to computers (Using the letter allegory, US law considers them ‘envelope information’ as opposed to ‘content’), cookies can be tied back to people, especially when identifiable information is also stored centrally. Remember how AOL accidentally published online all the searches made my 650,000 of its users in three months? Did you notice that the address, name (in case of ego searches) and SSN make that information identifiable?

    Data brokers fuse the small pieces of information you give to various websites, such as your name, address, zip code and phone number, to what you search for while shopping online and what your interests are when you take one of those online quizzes for example, along with your financial, medical and travel records to create a profile of you in their database.

    This profile can then be sold to companies who want to mail you a free trial of a product you may want to buy, or help a government Fusion Center to identify people to political agendas.

    The Virginia Fusion Center’s 2009 Threat Assessment identified “subversive thought” as a marker for violent terrorism and thus targeted “university-based student groups as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group.”

    The US government is currently believed to be running more than a hundred data mining programs to identify individuals’ ‘patterns of behavior’.

    What makes you think the government operates in a Black or White world? Privacy law in the US has a complex history of often conflicting common and statutory laws, changing perspectives with changes in technology, conflicting interests between the people and the state as well as disagreements and mistrust between organs of the state.

    In 1903, New York legislated a privacy tort action by statute, because a court declared in 1902 that it could not legally stop a teenager’s lithograph from being published on a flyer advertising flour.
    100 years later, former US president George W Bush authorized the National Security Agency to carry out warrantless surveillance of US citizens’ communication with any party believed by the NSA to be outside the US.

  9. DanJee 13:54, Feb 2nd, 10

    Harris, you are incorrect about cookies. Cookies cannot by law and by design contain any personally identifiable information. It is in fact quite naive to say that a cookie is equal to a person. In fact, it is more reliable to link a person by an IP Address. IP Address cannot be deleted. It is a unique number attached to your computer. Cookie, on the other hand, is a number assigned to a user on a browser basis. In other words, on the same exact computer, you open a IE, you are assigned one cookie, but if you open a Firefox, you are assigned another one. I am not familiar with the AOL incident, but a simple search told me that AOL didn’t reveal personal data, but search queries. The one user who actually someone was able to identify happened because she searched herself, search her address, searched her social security number.

    Cookies can be disabled whenever you want, and deleted in fact. In fact, industry knowledge tell us that on average 25% of the cookies are unreliable since because of cookie deletion. How can cookies be possibly tied back to a user on a legal level if this is the case? You don’t even know who the person was sitting in front of the computer when the web activity was cookied. On the web tech hierarchy, IP Address are more reliable. Cookie is useful information, but far far far from being the absolute be all and end all.

  10. Harris 13:58, Feb 2nd, 10

    Re: Dan’s notes on Search Me

    Google’s logs link search data to IP addresses, and are to be anonymized (by changing unspecified bits of the IP addresses). Here’s more from the Log Retention Policy FAQs [ ]

    How do these anonymizing measures protect user privacy?

    Changing the bits of an IP address makes it less likely that the IP address can be associated with
    a specific computer or user. Cookie anonymization makes it less likely that a cookie can be used
    to identify a user.

    Do these changes guarantee anonymization?

    It is difficult to guarantee complete anonymization, but we believe these changes will make it very unlikely users could be identified.

    What regulations or laws might require that you keep the data for a longer period?

    Governments in many countries are considering laws that will require communications service providers to capture and archive telephone and internet traffic data for periods from 6 months to 2 years. These laws have for the most part not yet been enacted.

    Will governments be able to subpoena server log data after it is anonymized? Will anonymized data still be able to identify an individual user by cookie or IP address?

    Google does comply with valid legal process, such as search warrants, court orders, or subpoenas seeking personal information. Logs anonymization does not guarantee that the government will not be able to identify a specific computer or user, but it does add another layer of privacy protection to our users’ data.

    What happens to the logs at the end of the expiration date? Are they deleted?

    At the end of the expiration date we will still keep server logs but they will be anonymized.

  11. Harris 14:18, Feb 2nd, 10

    Dan, the National Security Agency was leaving illegal cookies into web users’ computers until 2005, and the CIA until 2002. When privacy activists complained, both the agencies claimed it happened accidentally.
    These accidents, happening in two agencies who should be the most informed about privacy laws, show that law and design are no impediment to the potential surveillance use of cookies.

  12. Juliette 15:47, Feb 2nd, 10

    I would like to bring another question to the discussion. It seems that one of the major argument of Google, Facebook etc. is that as a user you have the option to set the level of privacy according to your will.

    However, I am wondering how many of them manage carefully their facebook or gmail accounts. I am pretty that most of them do not know or do not take the time to set everything so that the norm would be to go public and privacy would absolutely not be the default.

    Besides, users might be mislead by the claims of corporation. Google’s “crusade for freedom” in China could be a good example of something designed to increase the trust of its users while in reality they seemed to be ready to agree on compromises with the Chinese government.

    How could we raise people’s attention on this matter? They should at least question what information they give and what real benefit comes out?

  13. Jimena 23:54, Apr 25th, 10

    Privacy has been a constant topic throughout the semester. I think it that information management, our digital footprint (publishing every time we shed skin–one of the scariest truths Mushon has mentioned).

    Reading the comments on this week (I was not a part of the class by then) Elizabeth’s resonates the most:
    “I realize not being on Facebook is hardly the beginning of being “private” person. I fear I’m in an uphill battle … The aggregation of data around me and about me seems to be endless. Is there anyway out?” I guess we all agree that awareness and literacy are the basic tools for being able to manage (at far as that can be done) our online presence and data.

    In this light, I found this project very interesting.
    A couple of NYU students (that belong to the Free Culture club) have started working on a project called Diaspora, which they’re billing as “the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network.”

    They explain it like this: “we believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.”
    It might be worth checking it out…

    The webpage is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-controlled-do-it-all-distr

    and they have a blogpost explaining it further:


  14. ElzbthMllr 10:31, Apr 26th, 10

    You’re right about privacy being a constant topic. I think that’s one of the main things that I will take away from this course!