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Like Asking A Peeping Tom To Install Your Window Blinds


There are days when the decisions make themselves.  Today is one of them.  I’m going to give myself an EFF-xkcd shirt for Christmas.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt holds forth on online privacy in a CNBC special on, surprise, Google.

I think judgment matters.  If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.

Schmidt is right in that judgment does matter.  Despite my prolific internet empire, I don’t presume data privacy so don’t place things out there I don’t want people to read, and have placed extremely tall privacy walls around certain social spaces.  But, the onus of information protection is not completely on the individual user, especially when the tools provided for said protection are not in the user’s control.  What if those walls really have huge street-level glass windows that we cannot see?  A case in point is the current Facebook privacy-settings brouhaha: a recent revamp of privacy settings publicized Friends’ lists and users had to resort to that old “outcry” tactic to have these lists withdrawn from public view.  Why aren’t all of these online social settings ultra-private by default and what protections do we have against a company’s marketing whims?  If we have already exercised good judgment within that company’s parameters and they change the rules to decrease privacy, how is it then our poor judgment?

As Bruce Schneier says in his response to Schmidt’s comments: “Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.”  Online privacy is really about keeping intimate knowledge about ourselves from marketers, scammers, spammers and just plain psychos, and Schmidt knows this.

We want to play in our Facebook spaces without fear that some weirdo finds out where we live and who our relatives and friends are.  We wish to purchase things online and know for certain that our transactions – including what we bought and what we bought it with – are secure.  We intend to read books, watch movies and map our paths to grandmother’s house as a part of living our lives and not as fodder for a new marketing campaign or the government’s latest profiling protocols.  It’s annoying and intrusive enough when the Twitterbot for an HVAC company begins to follow you three seconds after you mention it’s so cold in the Midwest it may be time for a space heater.  There ought to be limits to such eyes and intrusion, not because I’m doing something bad, but because they are.  I want empowerment for me, not them.

If we are not treated as Google’s customers but as data points for their real customers – all without our permission and while our information is visible to undesirables – the sophisticated among us will find a different solution.  But, no, not Bing Search.  Going from “don’t be evil, but apparently it’s ok sometimes” back to pure evil, now with a simply awful search engine, is dumb.

Related: Digital Media | Google Finds No Privacy On Private Roads (funny thing is photography is strictly prohibited inside Google buildings)

4 comments… add one
  • Ennis December 12, 2009, 11:21 AM

    Why should the corporation empower us when they’re making money from the people buying our data, not directly from us? The flip side of no taxation without representation is that often there is no representation without taxation. What incentives do google / fb / twitter have to limit intrusion when they make money from that intrusion.

  • Maitri December 16, 2009, 9:16 AM

    Ennis: You say, “The flip side of no taxation without representation is that often there is no representation without taxation.” Some of us are Google customers, not just the cattle getting free room and board before we are rightfully slaughtered, to use your troubling-in-itself metaphor. This abuse of the merchant-customer or merchant-potentialCustomer relationship is intolerable.

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