Whirr2009-07-24
Privacy (sorry, no time to proofread this!)

Which reminds me, I've been thinking a lot about Privacy, recently. I often find people irritatingly confused about the subject, especially when it comes to technology--"Oh, I just hate having a cell phone. I can never go on vacation, people can always find me!" &c.

They confuse obscurity (going to the beach without a cell phone) with privacy (having control over the people one interacts with). Not having a cell phone is "private" in the way that losing your hearing is "quiet". Yes, it's technically true, but there are better ways to achieve the same result.

Finally, however, I've met a technology that raises the same intuitive privacy hackles in me that many other things raise in others--Google Latitude. It's a service from Google that keeps track of your current location by using (in preferential order) cell tower triangulation, Wi-Fi access points, and a GPS linkto determine where your phone is at any given moment.

My initial (and continued) reaction is, "What the hell? I'm not going to broadcast my daily movements for all the world to see!" However, I recognize that this is just as irrational as the example up top, and I signed up for the service.

Google doesn't "broadcast your location for anyone to see" at all, of course. You enter in the email addresses of people, one at a time, who are allowed access to this information. Currently it's just my friend Gregg, 'cause I was going to his party and knew I'd be late. No one else in the world can use the service to find me--just Gregg. And, if I like, I can "hide from him" (temporarily disable his access) or just take him off the list entirely.

Now, of course Google has access to this, they run all the code and have all the passwords, so they could spy on me whenever they liked. And, naturally, they could use these powers to let the Government spy on me, as well. However, and I think this is the key, critical point: they have the power to do that regardless of whether I sign up for their service or not!

When I signed up for Latitude, Google said something to the effect of "We promise not to spy on you now that you're letting Gregg track your movements". But if they were lying then, nothing would stop them from lying previously, when they said or implied, "We promise not to spy on you in general".

With this new feature enabled, I am ironically more safe from Google and the NSA tracking me than I was before. They could always track me, but now I know I'm being tracked. It is less likely that I will forget about it. If I'm going to a subversive anarchist meeting (or whatever) it's now more likely that I'll remember to just leave my phone at home.

It seems, to me, that certain kinds of privacy will be well and truly lost as a natural outgrowth of our technological progress--as a society, we've decided that we want to put a priority on the public access of data. This means that scientists in South Korea can easily read about my boss's latest research, and it means that teenagers in Iowa can look at gay porn. It also means that (unless you are a fanatic about keeping your online presence separate from your flesh and blood presence* then you will leave a trail that can be followed. For example, I just spent a few minutes reading the LJ of a friend of a friend that I'm stalking. Er... sorry about that Moki.

However, there will also be more and more opportunities to make the decision to be more accessible--for example, the decision to constantly share the co÷rdinates of my current physical location, or the decision to turn my phone on while at the beach. As long as I have full control over these decisions--I'm allowed to turn off my phone, or to prevent someone from tracking me--it isn't really a lose of privacy at all, at all. In my world, more data options are always better.

It's the same thing that people complain about (in reverse) regarding Twitter--"Who the hell cares what you had for breakfast?" Well, possibly no one, so no one needs to look. But if it ever matters, to anyone, it's there for the taking.

Anyway, send me a comment if you want me to add you to my Latitude list. If I don't want you spying on me, I'll just block you.

*Which is still quite possible, and probably always will be, but you lose a lot in the process. Also, it is very hard not to slip up, and mention your handle on the same forum where you've previously mentioned your real name. And, finally, folks in the future will want more and more wuffie, and it'll be hard to collect that stuff under an alias.

Comments
D to the B to the 32009-07-26
Google's level of invasiveness into our lives honestly scares me a bit, not that I think they're doing any maniacal cackling and destroying lives with the data they collect (at least not publicly) but the potential for abuse is so great with one company controlling and influencing so many aspects of our day-to-day lives, that said abuse is almost inevitable.

Is convenience ever really a good substitute for loss of privacy? Or is the privacy an illusion in the first place and we should just buy into the convenience while the going is good?
(People -can- disappear from the net when they want to. Porn stars are apparently -very- good at this.)

Also also, I totally need to make a short story or film called Sur-Villians (Survelliance word pun!)
Gregg2009-07-27
What are you doing in my house?

;-)