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Garfinkel on Privacy 10

Simson Garfinkel testified before the Senate on privacy issues (specifically, the plethora of effective and ineffective privacy bills now before Congress in its last days of this session) and wrote up his experience in Salon.
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Garfinkel on Privacy

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's curious that Simson wasn't able to clearly answer McCain's question, when the answer seems so obvious and basic:

    If the government is going to disclose lists of compaign contributors to anyone, it should be available to the taxpayers.

    The whole argument seems pretty much a red herring. There's a world of difference between disclosure mandated by law, as a part of ensuring that the public process is free, open, and democratic and disclosure of merchant/customer data by the merchant as a separate saleable good, detached from the initial transaction.

  • What do you want to bet that if opt-in becomes the law that this option will be set on automatically on software installation? I see no difference in automatic opt-in and the current opt-out option. As a former AOL user I did take the time to opt-out of their marketing offers. Three times, because you need to do it for every screen name. Also the options get reset back to AOL's defaults once a year. At least in AOL 4.0 that I gave up.
  • Hello John McCain, my friend,
    I've come to talk with you again,
    Because a vision softly creeping,
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains...
    Within the sound of silence.
  • Let's answer a basic and ancient question. What transactions are public, and what transactions are private? As for Senator McCain's query... anything done in the public square, such as running for office, or funding someone running for office, is public and available. Anyone thinking that computers are a new threat to spread this information further and faster has never lived in a small town. Taking that free public information and putting it into a more usable format (XML for example) or combining information from multiple sources adds value to that information and there is no problem compensating someone for adding this value. In effect, you're not paying for the data, but for making the data more useful. Consider the town market... still not extinct. I still go to one run by Amish and Mennonite farmers who are as jealous of their privacy as they are uninterested in computers. When I buy a slice of ham, I appreciate the convenience when the butcher knows I want the maple cure and low salt. He's told me when he's out of what I usually get, and will suggest other things I might be interested in. Yes, he remembers me from week to week, along with thousands of other people. I don't consider my taste in meat to be terribly private. I'm sure he has a hand signal to his brother to indicate that I've just bought ham, because I can usually barely turn around before his niece is there to guide me over to pick up some eggs. Now once in awhile I'd like to skip the eggs to cut down on my cholesterol, but this young lady is so polite and demure when she greets me and asks how I am, and could she show me over to the eggs... The only way my cholesterol will go down is when she gets married and starts working somewhere else. Is my privacy on these transactions compromised? Of course. If I found this to be a problem I wouldn't shop there. In exchange for giving up this privacy I receive high quality goods and low prices, along with a sense of community (I've been going to markets like this since I was in a stroller). What I have to accept is that what I do in the town market is public. Any or all of the merchants there can exchange information about me (Gerry... Der Englisher mit the red jacket and golden beaver ring) and there's nothing I can do about it. They could even sell that information to the local gym or cardiologist and collect money on the referral, and there's nothing for me to say about it.
  • In exchange for giving up this privacy I receive high quality goods and low prices, along with a sense of community

    This is an interesting sidelight to the whole debate. A question that has not often been asked is what are we giving up when we opt out. When we opt out, we decide not to participate in something. This may be a good thing sometimes, and a not so good thing other times.

    It sounds like you are opting in to a community where you are made to feel welcome and you feel that your maintaining privacy would not serve you as well as your being known does.

    Your comment has triggered in me the idea that part of the lack of community on the web is somehow rooted in our overwhelming tendency towards privacy. If we know nothing about one another, then how can we have a community.

  • Thats a good analogy.

    Personally I'd feel a little offended if they started selling my information.

    I'd be shocked if somebody who lived 200 miles away knew what I'd bought unless they were close friends with the butcher.

    Then there's the problem that there's a perception that storing data on a machine is inhuman and therefore it seems wrong. An emotional response of course, but I don't think it should be ignored on this basis.
  • Hmmm... I am disappointed that he didn't come up with a good market oriented response. A list of contributors is only marketable at a price if that information is not already free as in free beer because it is free as in public domain. Or it may be a sleight of hand as a campaign contribution, i.e. we could get this information from the gov't, but we wanna give you some money cuz we think we'll get something in return,
    or if the buyer thought they might get more useful information from the seller than the information that had been submitted by the seller to the gov't.

    This is of course what Sen. McCain campaigned against, but as my high school gov't teacher *who was a fine Republican precinct captain in a Republican State* taught me, a politician's first job is to be reelected.

    Of course the most amusing thing about the whole article was the comments Simson quoted from Sen. Richard Bryan. If we took him at his word and accepted that silence should not be acquiescence, then any office seeker must obtain a plurality of the registered voters rather than a plurality of the voting voters. Of course it will be a cold day in hell before any political body enacts minor campaign reform, and satan will retire before politicians will enact legislation that encourages mainstream politicians to encourage voter turnout instead of abstinence.

  • What I have to accept is that what I do in the town market is public.

    Sure, but this town market is your local community and the publicity of your actions isn't broadcasted and sold worldwide. It is the local "radio trottoir" and the publicity of your actions help to establish mostly accepted "norms" of what is considered civil behaviour in your neighborhood.

    The same publicity of your actions broadcasted and sold worldwide, turns into something, which can be used to abuse, humiliate, pressure or blackmail you and vice versa. Considering that the data can easily be tinkered with, THAT is not acceptable and has no positive social effects. It gives way to sueing each other ad nauseam.

  • I think this is a rant... Yes, I feel these statements of Garfinkel hit the point:

    The real privacy issue, I realized, has less to do with the selling of the information, and more to do with what is done with the information after it is sold:


    And in fact, I realized, this is the fundamental difference between opt-in and opt-out legislation.

    An opt-out system requires a tremendous amount of knowledge and the initiative on the part of the person whose information is being collected. ... ...With an opt-out system, these contributors would have to register to request that their personal information not be misused, otherwise it could be. ... With an opt-in system, the contributors would have to say, "Yes, please send me solicitations, please call me at home, please send me junk e-mail." .... Indeed, most AOL users don't like those pop-up messages that try to sell you something every time you log in, but few AOL users take the initiative to navigate through the service's screens to turn them off. Can you imagine somebody navigating to the AOL Marketing Preferences section and clicking the button, "Yes, I do want to receive special AOL member-only pop-up offers"? It's like sending e-mail to a spammer: "Please send me your low-interest-rate credit-card offers." That's why companies like AOL are in favor of opt-out, rather than opt-in.

    It's so sad that Garfinkel didn't realize that McCain's question was a trick question. I mean the opt-out solution is nothing more than the response of last resort of companies like AOL to hold on to a business model, which simply gives way to abuse of your private data.

    The gullible, browsing user has no knowledge and no time to fiddle around for minutes and minutes to find the opt-out page for each and every site he clicks on. It is simply a harrassment (though unnoticed) to put the burden to opt out of something, most people don't know they are opted-in by default. It's a simple trick. The analogy of spamming email fits. Being opted in by default is like receiving an email from the company you browse, asking "to show your passport" and "what's the purpose of your journey, where will you go next, what do you need to help us making your trip more convenient ?" Then your mail system is magically set up in a way that an automatic mail response is sent out to answer whatever has been asked and the user is even not aware of it.

    Give me a break...It's an abusive business method.

    Reminds me of the tricks played to make it difficult for certain segments of the U.S. population to vote. Make voter registration a painful, complicated procedure, difficult to access for the poor etc, and then you know who gains.

    Sorry for the rant. It is sooo easy to understand, that I can't comprehend why there is not a broader political will against it.

    And for McCain's question: Yes, sure there is NO violation of privacy rights involved disclosing the contributor's names to fincance a campaign. As long as you can donate as much as you want and politicians can be bought like bags of potatos, you better make laws to disclose who is trying to buy whom to at least make it public who messed up a democratic way of campaigning.

  • You know, this reminds me that the minister at church gets my name and my father's name mixed up all the time. As my father is head of the church council and signs his paycheck, you'd think he'd be able to keep things straight, but he's got alot of people to keep track of... and I know the computer system at church is inadequate... I set it up almost 20 years ago and I think there's been about one hardware upgrade since then. But I digress. There are two issues in your note that are very interesting: scope of "public" and errors. On scope... what do I care about what other people think? What I think of myself is important, then my family, then my various communities (civic, congregation, professional) and then the world in general. These groups are not aligned in what is considered "good" or "normal". It is up to me to decide and take a stand for what I think is right. I may change my mind as I learn and grow, and I may change my mind as the world changes. There are lots of things that go on in my neighborhood that the big world doesn't consider normal [hence the tourists that come to look at the buggies]. I've seen lots of ways of living around the world that I wouldn't want to participate in either. The information about me could be wrong. There's an old homily about "Live your life so that when someone says something bad about you, no one will believe it." That's not a statement about conformance. It's a statement that the best way to deal with wrong information is to supply lots of right information. Some people will still misunderstand, but do I really have to care about the thoughts an idiot has about me? Use of information to abuse and humiliate... well, you don't need information to do that. Any prejudice will do. We need to limit the power of government generally so this becomes less of an issue. We also need to promote a culture of reason, balance, and tolerance that will defend all from the attacks of the ignorant and ill-spirited.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.