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Privacy in the modern age
2007-06-01

What is it about privacy that confuses people so much? People have this need for privacy, which I well understand. What is more surprising to me is how they react when their illusion of privacy is shattered. Dating back to the unique id feature of the Pentium 6, which got everyone up in arms about... even though every computer with a network card has a unique MAC address. Or that a computer reading your email to show you ads was more "spooky" than reading your email to classify spam. Or that ads related to what you're reading right now are somehow worse than ads which are based on tracking your interests over time (ie gmail vs Y!Mail).

This week, we have DRM free downloads from Apple. The fact that these tracks, which are licensed only for your own private use, contain personally identifying information about you shouldn't be much of a problem, should it? Now you've got a stake in illegally lending such music to other people, eh? Do you worry about the privacy implications of putting your kid's name in his underwear? Or in your wallet?

And then there's Google's new "sidewalk view" photo service. You might be able to barely see a cat in the window! Or some other things. This isn't new, after all. It may be better than existing products, but A9 had this a year ago, and even Microsoft has a pretty close zoom level for some areas. Its a car going down a public street. Even Lauren Weinstein, whom I rarely agree with on privacy issues, doesn't think this is a big deal.

And this stuff is really just the tip of the iceberg. Camera phones are already bringing us closer to some of the realities of someone always watching like in David Brin's Earth. And that's nothing compared to some of Brin's predictions about The Transparent Society.

Yes, I work for Google. No, I don't speak for Google.


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The "I work for a big public company" disclaimer:
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I am not now, nor have I ever been employed to speak for anyone.
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