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From WSJ - Tracking Is An Assault On Liberty, With Real Dangers

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#1 AbleReach


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Posted 08 August 2010 - 03:42 PM

Remember this thread? - Graphical Representation Of What Information Top Sites Collect

Here's another look at privacy, also from the Wall Street Journal:
Tracking Is an Assault on Liberty, With Real Dangers
A snip:

A few years ago, the computer consultant Tom Owad published the results of an experiment that provided a chilling lesson in just how easy it is to extract sensitive personal data from the Net. Mr. Owad wrote a simple piece of software that allowed him to download public wish lists that Amazon.com customers post to catalog products that they plan to purchase or would like to receive as gifts. These lists usually include the name of the list's owner and his or her city and state.

Using a couple of standard-issue PCs, Mr. Owad was able to download over 250,000 wish lists over the course of a day. He then searched the data for controversial or politically sensitive books and authors, from Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" to the Koran. He then used Yahoo People Search to identify addresses and phone numbers for many of the list owners.

Mr. Owad ended up with maps of the United States showing the locations of people interested in particular books and ideas, including George Orwell's "1984." He could just as easily have published a map showing the residences of people interested in books about treating depression or adopting a child. "It used to be," Mr. Owad concluded, "you had to get a warrant to monitor a person or a group of people. Today, it is increasingly easy to monitor ideas. And then track them back to people."

I'm not as doom and gloom as the article.

In my opinion, the real issue here is how nuts it is to point an accusing finger at other people. Getting into a lather over privacy concerns can be like debating which books should be banned, if any. The bottom line is a responsibility for personal discernment, personal choice. And, we're all in here together, one way or another.

Oh -- The other real issue -- you don't still use your mother's real maiden name as a password reset prompt, do you? Those things can be ferreted out by data miners. (If you've ever wanted to privately call your first teacher "Fido," password prompts are your chance.) While you're at it, don't share anything online that you wouldn't discuss in a public, face-to-face situation... unless you're very, very careful to omit absolutely all identifying traces.

I choose to see a reasonable degree of transparency as an encouragement to grow, to see those other people (people who read George Orwell or struggle with depression or have different religious or political affiliations) as no more foreign than other neighbors, no matter where they live. There is no wall we have not made ourselves.

Safety is another story. Remember how our parents white-knuckled it when first teaching us how to drive? Well, mine did, maybe yours were more laid back. Smoothly following traffic rules and knowing how much pressure is needed to put on the brakes are learned skills. We are learning how to steer personal privacy in a digitally connected world. There are potholes. There are dangers. This is still a new world.

The first web site was put up, what? 20 years ago? Just 100 years ago one set of my great grandparents moved from the Carolinas to the Pacific Northwest - it was like moving to the other side of the universe, into a different culture, probably never to see their friends and family again. A few years later the US got its first transcontinental highway, but such a thing wasn't pretty or smooth or universally accessible until after the Interstate Highway system was championed in the 1950's.

We're still figuring out how having an Internet super highway changes things.

#2 jonbey


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Posted 08 August 2010 - 07:33 PM

Reading this the first thought I had was that someone snooping in a library and then following people home could find out what people were reading political texts etc. An agent working as a librarian would gather a lot of crazy stuff too. So what? There are many way to gather personal information.

If you want to know who likes 1984 and do not want to take Owads long winded route, look here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pag...02080074?ref=ts

54,000 people like that page. Many have public profiles. A lot quicker the Owad's methods.

But my point is, yes personal information can get on the web. But then personal information gets everywhere. Not long ago the biggest method for identity theft was going through someone's bins on a regular basis until enough documents were gathered to take control of their ID. The Internet does not make the job any easier, it is just a different way.

I little bit of common sense and protection goes a long way. Does anyone blame bins for ID theft?

As for tracking - after a discussion between friends on FB a while ago about tracking, and how evil some organisation was for doing it, I asked my friends "do any of you have store cards?". How many people are happy to exchange a few money off vouchers for sharing all of their buying habits for years and years? I have a Tesco storecard. Tesco is a pretty bit organisation now. They know when I shop, what I buy. They have about 10 years of data on me. Do I care? Um. Not sure.... ooh, 50p off peas! Cool.

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