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Why Google Wants Your Kid's SSN 391

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hello-toby-from-madison dept.
Jamie found a somewhat creepy story about a kid's art contest run by Google. As part of the entry, they need the last 4 digits of a social security number. The article suggests that the information requested by the contest should make it possible to guess at, and compile a list of children's social security numbers. It's bizarre and worth your read.
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Why Google Wants Your Kid's SSN

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  • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:45AM (#35289946)
    My general approach to life is to assume that any and all corporations will screw me over for a buck, and all advertisements are 75% distraction from the 20% lies and 5% facts.

    I was largely indifferent to Google (I only switched from Yahoo because the page loaded faster), but when I heard that their motto was "don't be evil." I started to think that they most likely are evil, and are simply biding their time.
  • by water-vole (1183257) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:46AM (#35289958)
    The problem isn't with google for collecting social security numbers. The problem is that SSNs are so sensitive in the US. I live in Sweden and here social security numbers are a matter of public record and many companies collect these numbers from their customers for their databases. It's quite convenient and, if done right, not as privacy infringing as people seem to think. It's quite ridiculous to have, like the US, a system where you can impersonate someone by knowing their number.
  • Re:Oh No! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by boarder8925 (714555) <thegreentrilbyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:56AM (#35290104) Homepage
    And yet the government, banks, corporations, etc. all require you to provide it because they assume it to be secure. Or rather, because they convince us SSNs are secure, all while knowing they're not.
  • by Posting=!Working (197779) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:57AM (#35290110)

    I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist by disposition, but doesn't "these last 4 digits were not entered into our records and will be safely discarded," sound like a contradiction? (How can they delete something that is not in their records?)

    It's not a contradiction to anyone who can understand the word "discarded" in relation to paper forms does not mean deletion of a file on a computer.

    Also, this article was written 4 days AFTER Google had already changed the form to not have the SSN. This is even mentioned in the article body.

    Yeah, I know it's on Huffington, but that crap doesn't qualify as a news article. Calling it a blog is doing it a favor, calling it a lunatic rant about a problem that's already taken care of would be more accurate.

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:59AM (#35290140)
    I mean, I understand the driving force behind a demographic's distrust of Google. They're a giant corporate information broker that lures people to simply hand over their data by providing free services. In certain distopian future sci-fi novels, that would be a nifty plot.

    But I can literally taste the tin foil on this guy's head. The little nutter gave me synesthesia. I think Its mostly his tone of voice. The way he's simply incredulous about the possibilities, with nothing to show for it.

    1.) I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist by disposition, but...

    Hey, I think I spotted where he became a conspiracy nutcase.

    Are these posts here to show us how evil Google has become to to show us how nutty the "google is evil" crowd has become? Because despite the title, I'm leaning with the latter.

  • Re:Do no Evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @11:02AM (#35290152)

    Some mid-level employee came up with a clever but ultimately bad way of distinguishing applications. Conspiracy theory: ignored.

  • by PSaltyDS (467134) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @11:36AM (#35290482) Journal

    It gets my blood pressure up a bit every time I read about "revealing" someone's SSN as having penetrated an inner sanctum. The password-secret treatment of that number needs to be dropped. It's time for legislation in the US that makes it invalid and indefensible in court to treat knowledge of an SSN as an authentication factor. Any organization that treats knowledge of the SSN as an authentication factor should be fully liable for the consequences of any fraud that results.

    Note I'm talking about authentication, not identification. Nobody thinks Google shouldn't be able to identify the contestants, and an SSN is more unique than names. The problem only comes from the ability to use that number as a "password" to authenticate for access to things (like bank accounts). Treating the SSN as a "username" would not cause the problem; it's using it as an authenticating secret despite the fact that it's easily accessible that makes revealing it a terrible security lapse.

    Knowing your SSN should be no more helpful to a fraudster than knowing your full name or hair color. It should be treated as information too readily available to be of any use for authentication. Reliance on that kind of information for authentication should be evidence of failure in due diligence, and lead to liability for that inappropriate reliance. If your bank lets someone take all the money out of your account just because they know your full name they should be liable. If they do just because they knew your SSN it should be treated the same way.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @11:53AM (#35290652) Homepage

    My general approach to life is to assume that any and all corporations will screw me over for a buck

    Mine is that any and all corporations are staffed, managed and owned by people. They also make money from people. If all corporations are evil it can only be because groups of people are incapable of being good, or there is an active disadvantage to being 'good'. Of course that's entirely ridiculous, which partially explains it's insightful moderation.

    There are plenty of companies out there that will actively refuse to screw customers over because they believe it for ideological reasons or because they believe it will make them more profitable in the long run. Tarring all companies with the same brush is just as naive and counter-productive as doing the same with people, women, Americans, politicians, Christians etc.

  • by jittles (1613415) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @12:04PM (#35290778)
    Then your parents did their taxes incorrectly. I can assure you that shortly after my birth the government required SSNs for all dependents. Such that my parents had to get social security cards for myself, and 4 other siblings at the same time. As a result, our numbers are very close to each other. Further more, had you prepared your own taxes (properly), you would know that the parent is correct.
  • Re:Do no Evil (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @12:08PM (#35290808)

    Conspiracy theory: ignored.

    Uh huh. Yeah. Listen, we know what we're doing here. You might be able to do your so-called "ignoring" of this, with your fancy-pants big-city "rational thought", "logic", and "analysis of evidence", but those of us professional conspiracy theorists are entirely undaunted by that sort of reasoning. So just stand aside, junior, and go do whatever it is you kids do to fritter your time away, like actually learning things or socializing with other human beings. We've got some very important hysterics to get started on, so if you don't mind...

  • Re:Do no Evil (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @01:10PM (#35291364)

    Whew! An anonymous coward has told us all to ignore this.

    Of course, if it was anyone but Google, we'd be in an uproar. But it's Google, which has such a great track record when it comes to privacy *cough*.

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