Google/Blogger's new barrier wall on comments which made me mad (see Blogger Comment Changes Stink. Period.) led me down a rambling trail yesterday on privacy, Google, data mining and how technology is really ahead of how we can plan it, manage it and control it. Some is baffling, some is exciting, some is scary and some is just over my head.
An exciting tech development sequey to my ramble...A biotech firm in Houston has developed simple, low-cost blood tests for breast cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's allowing detection years earlier than today's most advanced technologies can catch it and is almost ready for release. (via Jill). And...a study on mice, reversing skin aging, had "findings supporting the theory that ageing is the result of specific genetic changes rather than accumulated wear and tear...and that it is possible to reverse those genetic changes later in life." Amazing.
But thinking of that tangled knotty mess of technology/privacy issues, I started with this: Ten Extremely Useful Websites to Protect Yourself Online which is an easy list to note for later and to have on hand. But that is fluffy stuff and the issue really is more convoluted and I have given it more perusal. So I read what Tim Berners-Lee, that genious inventor of the world wide web, WWW, has to say and he has the next step defined - the Giant Global Graph, GGG. So there. I've told you. It's going to be GGG. It is a little over my head but interesting to glimpse what the real thinkers are planning in that beyond web 3.0 sort of way. These big thinkers are trying to untangle these complicated knotty things of how data all comes together for the good of everyone. A very very minor example, is: how do I encourage my children to do deep research when they run to Wikipedia first and also do what, as Berners-Lee pointed out, on-campus researchers do -- they find it easier to buy books through Amazon rather than use their campus library. Is this good for us? Time will tell. Our lives are easier and what we get for that convenience might be at a cost but we don't even know what that cost will be.
How the Web is a Shadow of the Real World by Dan Brickley (he was behind the Friend-of-a-Friend project, FOAF which is a networking formulation that knocks down barriers) got me to thinking about how we do interact online as we do in real life and how we want those connections to work which is NOT how Google is doing, blocking links back to all commentors with its new Blogger comment structure. Brickley is a pretty smart thinking guy - he's involved now with Joost (15,000+TV shows, 250+Channels through your internet connection). The web as a shadow of the real world, a metaphorical idea, is in that ephemeral world where we are merging/defining our virtual selves and our private real selves which is something I've been theoretically interested in.
You are your trails of data left everywhere, btw.
Privacy online -- Google and Doublelick raise questions about needing extreme factfinding about privacy practices and I came across a very good article by brainiac tech Danny Weitzner (a W3C Tech/Society Policy Director who writes about privacy issues and open internet policy and things such as data sharing/mining by government local/state law enforcement ). He calls for "...a much more open, flexible process in which technical experts and the interested public are able to ask detailed questions about current practices. This is not a criticism of either US or EU regulators...In the 1990s, the FTC under Christine Varney’s leadership pushed operators of commercial websites to post policies stating how they handle personal information. That was an innovative idea at the time, but the power of personal information processing has swamped the ability of a static statement to capture the privacy impact of sophisticated services, and the level of generality at which these policies tend to be written often obscure the real privacy impact of the practices described. It’s time for regulators to take the next step and assure that both individuals and policy makers have information they need."
He continues: "The key privacy concern seems to be that Google would take all of the personal information it has about users (search terms, IP addresses, contents of email, location from map applications, etc.) and combine it with the personal data the Doubleclick has (demographics, click stream data from ads served) and end up with a REALLY powerful private surveillance machine." and I agree with him that we need some baseline rules about how personal information can and cannot be used, whether by Google or other web services.
In another post, Privacy Lost?, Weitzner, after reading Laura Holson's NYT article on how phones can find you anywhere and everywhere, writes about GPS tagging and location monitoring via cell phone usage and these services being integrated into Google. I'm glad there are very dedicated peoplelike Weitzner working on these issues and highlighting the very important need to "develop social, technical and legal tools to be sure that it is not misused."
Isn't easy just to swipe now, pay later? Further reading about a WaPo article yesterday on credit cards noted that there will be upcoming hearings on the practice of credit card companies raising fees, which caught my attention as this is a bugaboo of mine as a parent (more below) but it was the privacy issue that caught my attention: "In the face of the hearing, major card issuer J.P. Morgan backtracked on the practice, which includes using data-profiling to raise interest rates for customers who pay their card bills on time but fall behind on other expenses such as utilities." Wowsers. Did you know stuff like that was happening? Your crumbs of credit, ordering, purchasing, etc. are little dots to be linked and sold and mined.
About our financial illiteracy and my bugaboo about how this isn't being taught in schools (just an aside), "fourteen states, including Virginia, have created new mandates for personal finance education since 1998, bringing the number of states with such requirements to 28, according to the National Council on Economic Education," in another article. My son is our only child getting a class on personal finance at any level (a college one). Because things have gotten so complicated, technology is so out front that my children don't balance checkbooks, they just check balances using the ATM cards. In fact, Visa Bucks (no longer in existence) let us track in almost real-time where our kids were dropping dollars.
A movement is afoot to question how credit card fees are used and in that WaPo article I could nod - yes, I too, don't have time to read all the fine print among all the other paper trash ads in the envelopes that come amidst all the other junk mail that comes from my data being sold to marketers. Also in that article the fact that Americans use credit to finance about $2 trillion in purchases each year. Households have an average of five cards and $2,200 in debt. Well, we don't believe in carrying any credit card debt but also you have to be smart about credit cards and it is hard to be smart about that and what is happening with all the data and what sort of way this information will be used and how it will be controlled.
So, this is a little deep in theory and rambling about what sparked off my frustration with Google's actions to build a wall. They just want everyone on Blogger and you know that is the easiest and most popular way to do a blog because it is so simple. Like Facebook is simple for my kids, Blogger is the network tool used because of its simple set up/operation. Once Google can track our friends, comments, email, location, information raises questions on how open interaction on the internet shouldn't prohibit conversation by disallowing links from non-Google blogs. Phffff. Nothing is really all worked out... An AdAge article notes that advertising isn't working well from data server information. Yeah. Uh huh. Not yet. Well, holiday spending online is up 18% this year over last year. It is just easier that way.
That is why the quote from William Gibson in the recent 40th anniversary Rolling Stone magazine article that I captured for the illustration at top, caught my eye. We are mixing ourselves up in a new mash-up version: real and virtual.
On a lighter note, do you really even need to sign your credit card receipts? Not according to these 8 Things You Really Don't Have To Do. They've got your data, anyway. Your signature isn't you, really, is it. Your data crumbs are.