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Privacy The Internet

Privacy In the Age of Persistence 120

Bruce Schneier recently wrote another essay on privacy for the BBC concentrating on how data seems to be the "pollution of the information age" and where this seems to be leading. "We're not going to stop the march of technology, just as we cannot un-invent the automobile or the coal furnace. We spent the industrial age relying on fossil fuels that polluted our air and transformed our climate. Now we are working to address the consequences. (While still using said fossil fuels, of course.) This time around, maybe we can be a little more proactive. Just as we look back at the beginning of the previous century and shake our heads at how people could ignore the pollution they caused, future generations will look back at us — living in the early decades of the information age — and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data."
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Privacy In the Age of Persistence

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  • scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blhack ( 921171 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:19PM (#27017061)

    Look at what happens to people when the run for office. We found some pictures of Barack Obama when he did some joke modeling thing with one of his friends in college (or something like that).

    Can you imagine if we had a searchable index of every single conversation a presidental or senatorial candidate had ever had?
    Imagine being in your 40s and having to account for a "private" conversation that you had 20 years ago at 2:00am when you were drunk.
    Guys, this isn't some crazy whackjob ranting about the evil government. This is reality! My username can, with not a whole lot of work, be tied to me in real life. If somebody wanted to, they could go back through every single comment I had ever made on any message board or blog that I use this handle on.

    Scary. Really really scary. My bet is that almost everybody is in this same boat. Google has made it TOO easy to find things.

  • Re:scary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:23PM (#27017103) Homepage Journal

    That's not a problem becasue no one will care. IT's on thing to look at one person and see them do something 'wrong'. but when you look around and everyone is doing it, no one cares.

    ITs not scary, and if you wanted a username that can't be traced back to you, you could do that.

    Sure, I've dome some monster stupid stunts, but who cares?

  • Not possible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dreen ( 1349993 ) <> on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:27PM (#27017149)

    This time around, maybe we can be a little more proactive.

    Different people will make same mistakes that our fathers did. They will learn from their mistakes, just as our fathers learned, but the next time around new people will make same mistakes again anyway.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:37PM (#27017265) Homepage Journal not nearly as much of a problem as the proliferation of noise with respect to signal. In the end, whatever survives is whatever is dominant (ie: the most successful in the environment) which is not the same as whatever is actually useful. If noise is the dominant element, then noise is what will endure and the signal will die. It will be out-competed. Basic darwinism.

    THIS is the pollution, not the persistence of information. There's probably not much more real information being produced now than there was at any time in the Age of Enlightenment, so it really doesn't matter if it persists. It'd be great if it persisted better. The problem is the creeping crud. This isn't about freedom to express oneself, since that is also information (sometimes too much information, in another sense of the term). Nobody claims a Nigerian scammer is expressing themselves. Well, if you DO claim that, I've a few billion in gold that could be yours if you just supply me with some information first.

  • Re:Remember... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:43PM (#27017357) Journal

    The problem is that nothing disappears. If you admitted back in 1999, while you were an idiot college student, that you "experimented" with marijuana, do you really want that Slashdot post to reappear in a year 2020 Google search when you're trying to run for the State Legislature or Congress?

    There are drawbacks to keeping messages that we posted when we were still young & stupid. I still have Usenet posts from the year 1987 that still come back and haunt me. I was only 10-11 years old, but nobody reading those old posts know that. They identify those posts with the adult version of me, and assume I can't spell.

    Imagine the backlash that might have occurred against Obama if we were able to find his old high school postings, wherein he admits he cheated on a test by copying from his neighbor. The web didn't exist when Obama was in high school, but eventually we will have presidents with decades-old online postings, and you can be sure FOX News, CNN, and all the rest will dig them up for all to see.

  • Re:scary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by D Ninja ( 825055 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:55PM (#27017503)

    All people got into some kind of trouble as a kid, or at the very least made some bad judgments.

    Fixed that for you. Everybody is human. We all make mistakes and we have to learn from them. Too many people get their "holier than thou" attitude (and this is EVERYBODY - religious or not, rich or not, whatever) and like to forget the things they've done and judge whoever it is on the chopping block.

    While I know many people here tend to shy away from religion, there is an interesting story in the Bible where the prostitute was going to be stoned. The way the story goes (trying to cut down the size of my post here), Jesus intervened and, knelt down in the sand and began writing things in the sand. Now, you never know what he was writing - it's never said in the Bible. But, one theory I heard was that Jesus was writing down the sexual sins of the men who were about to stone the prostitute.

    Of course, the men, embarrassed, eventually walk away and the prostitute lives.

    It's a very interesting story and very insightful to how quick we, as human beings, forget our own faults are so quick to judge others.

    (With all this said, in order for society to function, some things *must* come under judgment. Murder, for example, cannot be condoned.)

  • Re:Remember... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RedK ( 112790 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:03PM (#27017617)
    That's exactly why you use an online handle. I doubt we'd see "commander64_love" running for president.
  • the internet is a series of servers and wires beyond your control. please note: BEYOND YOUR CONTROL. therefore, regardless of any law, written in bold 72 pt font in blood, no one can reasonably expect anything to be private on this system. buried in your deskdrawer, in your house, there you can find privacy. on the wide open internet, the very notion of privacy is philosophically impossible, like oil and water, the two concepts

    furthermore, much of what people are shocked to find that the internet can know about them is detritus. pointless bits and pieces. in other words, no facts about yourself that anyone would consider seriously private in terms of anything that can damage you, unless you are some sort of hysteric. were it even to be found and associated with you, needle in a haystack this stuff is, the very effort that be mustered to even care is ridiculous. yeah, its "private" facts about you in that it is associated with you personally. but the to me the notion of privacy includes some sort of horrible damagin facts about you

    and even beyond that, much of this detritus wouldn't exist without the internet in the first place. its not like you had some sort of private facts about yourself, then the internet came along and stole them from you. no, these random bits and pieces about your life only exist because YOU choose to go out on the internet and PUT it there

    finally, it is entirely possible to manage your online identity in such a way that what goes on there, behind this moniker or on that site or in this newsgroup or on that facebook page or with that avatar or in that email: you consciously manage what is disclosed and what isn't under that rubrik. this really is nothing new or weird. people, in real life, long before the internet, often managed different parts of their identity in different social spheres of their life

    in short, privacy on the internet is:

    1. impossible. not legally impossible, but beyond that: philosophically impossible
    2. pointless. mediocre bits of flotsam and jetsam where you have to be quite a hysterical person to even care that someone else knows this about you
    3. native to the internet. without the internet, this detritus wouldn't exist in the first place. no privacy was "stolen" from you. its the same half-witted reasoning that calls file sharing "stealing" and "piracy". you PUT the information there, with your full conscious authorization of the implications involved
    4. completely normal and in line with the entire human history of identity plasticity, manipulation, and management

    in short, why the HELL do people get so worked up over this bullshit concept of privacy on the internet. there is none! just accept reality, move on

    i honestly believe that kids in their teens, and younger, would find this entire conversation just plain weird. that if you grow up with the internet, this entire issue is beyond understanding, simply because what you do on the internet and privacy is i think natively understood by those who grow up with the internet to be disconnected concepts

    tempest in a teapot. an absurd and pointless topic

  • Re:Remember... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Albio ( 854216 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:44PM (#27018067) Homepage
    Yet the moment you try to archive your files to slashdot for later retrieval you'll find that the site has crashed and lost all data.
  • Re:Remember... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TorKlingberg ( 599697 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:59PM (#27018249)

    Unless it can be connected, say if he lists on his Facebook profile.

  • Re:Remember... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WidgetGuy ( 1233314 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @07:45PM (#27018643)
    Not only that, but anything that anyone else has posted about you.

    I once found a document that noted my (real) name and that I had been a member of an amateur rock group that had won a 1964 "battle of the bands" contest at my high school. The name of the city and state I lived in at the time was also in this document. Not hard for some prospective employer to determine my age (roughly) from that posting. When that information was "fresh," not even ARPANET existed (if memory serves) except, maybe, somwhere at RAND Corporation as a proposed design.

    It's not only that this type of information persists but that it is so widely and readily available and that it may have uses never anticipated by the poster. So, please, also be careful what "personal" information you publish about others.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:20PM (#27019423)

    I just hope you're being satirical.


  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @01:32AM (#27020695) Journal

    Why do we need privacy? Invariably the reason seems to be: "I don't want others to know what I am doing".

    Followed by: "because they might do something harmful to me because of it". (there is another argument as well, which I will cover after this one)

    Actually, that last bit is NOT the way people usually say it, but I said it that way to make my point easier.

    We know that in history there have been times that it was very bad to have certain people know something about you. Godwin be damned, but having people know your religion was not always something good. Nazi germany used "harmless" census data gathered earlier to exterminate those who to them had undesirable census data.

    Privacy advocates would argue that if this census data had NOT contained religion, it would have been better, but would it? A similar bit of potential census data was used by another organization to hunt down those it found undesirable. The KKK. Skin color. That you can't keep private/hidden away. If you are black, you are black and it tends to be fairly noticable unless you want to go to the most extreme forms of privacy (burka).

    Blacks being prosecuted by white racists did NOT benefit from the fact that the US did not collect skin color in its census data. So in this dark era of the previous century, privacy would not have protected those lynched in the US.

    Would it have protected the jews in europe? Some, but not all. Those who hid away their religion, because they were only related to jews but not actually religious themselves or had learned not to be noticed might have had better changes. But any jew who practiced his/her faith would have been noticed regardless of census data and suffered the same fate.

    The privacy advocates suffer from the fact that they are looking at the short term and only at information that can be hidden if you all wish to confirm to the majority world view. Take the constant cases of online communities banning homosexuals who dare to come out of the closet online. Recent example Xbox-live, banning a lesbian for daring to be a lesbian. As long as she blends in with the majority (or at least the mob) she was safe. Keep her sexuality private.

    But is this what we want as a society?

    Let me know make my point.

    We would be better off in a society where we had no privacy but nobody was prosecuted for information about their person.

    A jew in nazi germany would have been better off if the fact that a person was jewish did NOT matter. Well DUH you might say but think about it. If society doesn't judge you based on your sexuality then there is no reason for it to be private. Simple example: Blondes. We all know that blondes are dumb, ergo you might wish this information to be private so you are not judged on your hair color in your job application. Silly? Well there are experiments to just that with nationality in job applications to stop people being discriminated against based on where they were born. BUT place of birth needs ONLY be private IF you are judged on it. If there was no discrimination, there would be no need to keep things hidden.

    So for instance the law against age limits in jobs and that you do NOT have to list your age on a resume is just a lazy privacy law against the real problem of age discrimination. If we got rid of age discrimination, we would I think have a better society then a society in which your age is private.

    Why? Again, the xbox-live example or for that matter, the white black man, or the gentile jew. As long as the lesbian, the black person or the jew blend into the crowd, behave like the mob and don't stand out, they were somewhat safe. Until the mob decides that their behaviour ain't enough like the mob. Note that the lesbian might also wish to hide that she is a female on a gaming network.

    Just how free is a society where you are allowed to be a different religion just as long as it isn't known by society?

    Privacy laws like this are ONLY known as long as we allow society to discrimi

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."