09 March 2012

Data collection by google, etc.

I take quite a different view regarding online privacy of search engines and e-mail programs like google and gmail and its competitors than most people of a progressive bent. I actually take somewhat seriously the fact that a sort of meta-informational world system, of as yet unknown form, is in the process of emerging. We need to accept, I think, that what we do in a relatively public way, such as what we buy, what we are interested in and read, and what we say in public spaces, will be partially tabulated and utilized as significant data. Obviously we need safeguards to ensure that people who could take advantage, or governments, cannot individually identify information, but there is an implicit bargain which is the entire raison d'être of google and such; they find out about us, and direct advertising to us, in exchange for free services. I find this an acceptable bargain, with the understanding that if someone, including the government (without due process and probable cause) asks for or otherwise seeks to obtain identity-specific information about an individual, the privacy policy (and the law) need to protect that information from disclosure. In other words, statistics, stripped of identifying information, or use of data to steer commerce, yes, but use of data to gain specific information about people, no. This may not always be an easy tightrope to negotiate, but it seems to me the proposed alternative, of draconian restriction of the flow of information from users of the information superhighway to purveyors of commerce, would undesirably stifle what is likely to be the main commercial intercourse in the future just as it is really starting to develop.

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