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Privacy Machiavellis 206

Chris Jay Hoofnagle has a piece up at on what he calls the "privacy Machiavellis," which are exemplified by Google and Facebook. (The article is adapted from a longer treatment published last year, called "Beyond Google and Evil.") Hoofnagle heads the privacy foundation set up with money collected from settlements of privacy lawsuits against Facebook. From SFGate: "... you have no way to ask Google to stop this tracking. Instead, you can merely opt out of the targeted advertising — the product recommendations. Exercising your privacy options creates a worst-case-scenario outcome: If you opt out, you are still tracked, but you do not receive the putative benefit of targeted ads. An illusory opt-out system is just one of the increasingly sophisticated sleights of hand in the privacy world. Consider Facebook's privacy options. ... Facebook can proudly proclaim that it offers ... more than 100 [choices]. Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all. Facebook benefits because poor choices or paralysis leads consumers to reveal more personal information. In any case, the fault is the consumer's, because, after all, they were given a choice. Reader Kilrah_il sends word that Google has just released a tool that could alleviate some of the above worries: it stops tracking by Google Analytics for users of IE7+, Firefox 3.5+, and Chrome 4+. Perhaps Hoofnagle will comment on it here or elsewhere.
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Privacy Machiavellis

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  • by homer_s ( 799572 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:49PM (#32341208)
    An illusory opt-out system ... Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices,

    Of course, you can exercise the one opt-out system that works - don't use their services. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. It is like buying a car, but not wanting to pay the price. The price of working with Google and Facebook is not dollars, but your data.

    Google's price/benefit is right for me, so I use it. Facebook's is not, so I don't.
  • Privacy paranoia (Score:1, Insightful)

    by mangu ( 126918 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:51PM (#32341242)

    Paranoids are people who think they are much more important than they really are.

    I have no fear of my privacy being violated by Google because I don't see any reason why someone should be particularly interested about me. In Google's eyes I'm just a statistic. My personal data is no more important to anyone than the data about millions of other consumers.

    I'm safe in the numbers, just like I'm anonymous when walking down a busy street. everyone can see me, but nobody cares.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:54PM (#32341292)

    Nicely stated.

    Yet civilians still need protection from things they don't understand. We do have a choice. We can and do opt out. But even black-belt geeks that desire privacy have a hard time figuring this stuff out. It's like the 32 page credit card agreement conundrum. Simple protection of the innocent demands safety for them. We're supposed to be the 'good guys'. Good guys help protect those that can't protect themselves, not leave them to the wolves. There is evil in such trickery.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:56PM (#32341312) Journal

    Facebook can proudly proclaim that it offers ... more than 100 [choices]. Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all.

    First it's not enough privacy options. Now it's too many privacy options. Tomorrow when they get the unspoken mythical number correct, we'll bitch about the default settings. Then someone will come on Slashdot and say that his Linux servers were rooted and we'll say that it's because all the idiots of the world use out of the box settings and don't change the default passwords. Granted, your average facebooker shouldn't have to have the wherewithal to set up a Linux server but I think this Google/Facebook privacy complaining thing is getting a little old []. Especially when both named parties are suddenly doing quite a bit to make users happy now that it's becoming important to consumers. To complain that they give us too many options now is just ... just ...

    Sherry Bobbins: Would you like some pepper on your food, Bart?
    Bart Simpson: Sure ... little more ... little more ... little more ... too much, take it back.

  • Sounds familiar... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nematode ( 197503 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:56PM (#32341314)
    An illusory opt-out system . . . Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all. Facebook a better metaphor for capitalism or democracy?
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:57PM (#32341324) Homepage

    > We can and do opt out. But even black-belt geeks that desire privacy have a
    > hard time figuring this stuff out.

    Why is it so hard to figure out that if you can't figure it out you shouldn't agree to it?

  • by Miros ( 734652 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:00PM (#32341370)
    That makes sense in an opt-in framework, but not in an opt-out framework.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:00PM (#32341372) Homepage
    People are not filming and recording you walk down the street (at least not all controlled by a single company, not in america). All the information in one place makes it easy to abuse. If you do a search you can easily find tales of IRS agents abusing their authority to look up info on celebrities, political candidates, and even their ex-wives. When you record, then people can use it later and yes they can eliminate the anonymousity later. But there are already addons like Noscript and Ghostery to stop Google from getting quite so thorough a record of you. Of course, chances are your ISP will still have a good record, but at least it is not one single company controlling all that privacy for everyone. Which severely limits the abuse potential
  • Behind the curve (Score:3, Insightful)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:04PM (#32341424) Journal

    Google has just released a tool that could alleviate some of the above worries: it stops tracking by Google Analytics

    Sounds great, I've always wanted a way to block that "google-analytics" I keep seeing on my NoScript blocked list.

    I can't complain much though- there's an important difference between going to a third party (NoScript) to block Google, and Google offering a solution themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:17PM (#32341602)

    Paranoids are people who think they are much more important than they really are.

    And idiots are people who think "paranoid" means "more concerned about privacy than I am".

  • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) * on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:18PM (#32341632)
    I'm safe in the numbers, just like I'm anonymous when walking down a busy street. everyone can see me, but nobody cares.

    Nobody cares until somebody has a reason to care. Say your future employer, or your insurance company, or your opponent's lawyers in a future lawsuit, or your spouse in divorce proceedings, or any malicious person who is trying to find any damaging information about you etc etc. To take it to the extreme, are you really comfortable with the idea of every detail of your life being recorded and permanently stored and made accessible to anybody who wants it, for any purpose, just because nobody has any interest to look at it right now?
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:20PM (#32341644)
    Free market works great without all the information as well, it is not a requirement for participation or for even the free market to work well - you simply don't do business with them if you don't have all the information or aren't comfortable with the transaction. *THAT* is the free market solution.

    There is no need to create "political" action in the case of EULAs, Google, etc - you simply don't use their service - seeing as they "play games" with their terms as you describe it as.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:24PM (#32341708)

    When Google literally drives down private streets to photograph people's houses -- how do you hide from them?

    Ted Kaczynski may have been a murderous thug, but maybe he wasn't crazy.

  • by Miros ( 734652 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:41PM (#32341938)
    Fortunately they are poorly organized
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:45PM (#32341994)

    Sorry, but the "if you don't like it don't use it" idea is just ignorant of reality.

    A huge share (if not 100%) of the websites you visit embed Google Analytics or some other tracker, and they don't notify you much less ask for your permission. You never even get to make the choice not to be tracked. And technical jiujitsu like this FF addon only half-@ss solves the problem some of the time.

    Oh, and the "I don't care if I'm tracked so you shouldn't care either" argument is even sadder.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:55PM (#32342090) Journal
    Let this be a lesson to all those who fear the opinion of history: don't write a book advocating a position that is not yours if you don't want to be remembered for holding that position.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:56PM (#32342098)

    Unfortunately ignorance like that works in the favor of companies like Facebook. No, it's not enough to not put your own information into Facebook. You may choose not to use it, but others will, and they'll fill it up with your information that you don't want on there.

  • by paulgrant ( 592593 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:10PM (#32342246)

    Your stupidity doesn't excuse the practice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:26PM (#32342404)

    I do if they said they would protect my privacy. Or unilaterally change the terms of the agreement retroactively. Allowing an opt out does not fix it. "Yes those changing room videos are now public. But you can opt out! Simply send us a notarized letter with the a copy of your birth certificate, the signatures of your mother, father and attending doctor and we will promptly re-hide it. Hurry before one of our partners decides they could make money with a 'Best of' anthology."

    Given Zuck's previous business decisions I have my doubts if they even respect your attempts to protect yourself by deleting items when you ask - or simply hide it in their databases for their own potential personal use later. Thats certainly the methodology of a 'normal' account closure.

  • there is a fake me out there, with a fake name, a fake birthday, a fake home address, a fake mother's maiden name, a fake birth city, fake likes and dislikes, etc. every time i am asked for this info online, i consistently and continually use the fake alter ego

    this is the future of privacy: aliases

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:44PM (#32342590)

    To the people who mod this insightful. Go fuck yourself.

    Are you saying that because I'm not a lawyer...because I was *only* reading at a 12th grade level at age 8...that I should:

        - not be able to purchase a car?
        - not be able to buy internet service?
        - never own a home?
        - have to spend days researching my new apartment complex to see which terms of the lease count, and which are merely unenforceable?
        - not even be able to *use* the average operating system, save a BSD licensed one? I'm sorry--The GPL contains terms of the art that require a subtle and nuanced understanding to even start to comprehend. Don't get me started on windows licensing agreements...
        - not be able to own phone service
        - not be able to participate meaningfully in social life because many services are only available with a credit card or bank account, each coming with their own 10-20 pages of small print which make liberal use of terms of the art.

    No. That's a load of shit. In point of fact, 99% of the world probably outright *IGNORES* the legalese that occurs in day to day life. And if there was any justice--juries and judges would throw it out for exactly that reason. The reasonable, ethical, responsible expectation is the doctrine of first sale and nothing more. No loss of rights, no restrictions on what you can do with it, how or when.

    And the same goes for marketers. Privacy information is provided in a complicated, convoluted manner to hide the plain and simple fact that their agreements amount to "once you give us the data, we can do what we damned well please with it, as long as it isn't illegal (and if the law changes, we will do it)"

    Participating in society in a routine and typical basis should require no more legal comprehension than is typical. And if that means that I "have to understand" my cellphone agreement--it should be nullified and unenforceable.

    The ridiculous attitude that "You don't have to do X, so I can ask for anything I damned well please for it, collude with others to ask for it, and no, you aren't free to compete because I have a revolving door patent agreement updated every year, but never filed--and I enjoy my monopoly agreements on service with local governments" needs to be set on fire and shot at a social level.

    Not . It's not over till it's burned alive.

  • by __aasqbs9791 ( 1402899 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:02PM (#32342776)

    It's not opt-in for those who were using it before the system was changed to collect their information without giving them the option to opt-out.

    Okay, you got me there. When I managed a self storage location we could tell who the lawyers were. They were the only ones (well, high 90's%) who read the contracts we had people sign. That might seem odd, considering it was only 1 page of relatively fine print (it wasn't like signing a mortgage or anything) but most people assume that they wouldn't understand it even if they did read it. Many people fear (rightly IMHO) that legalese too often has specific meanings that you have to be a lawyer to actually understand the implications; that it doesn't mean what you'd think it means.

    As far as what it's cost Zuckerberg, you'd have to balance the bad will generated (which is far worse among us geeks than 'normal' folk, and they greatly outnumber us on FB these days, I'm willing to bet) with what he can do with the additional data. I'd bet the balance is, or will be, quite a bit less than $2B in the end. I think it should be much more, but I don't think it will actually work out that way.

  • by citylivin ( 1250770 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:26PM (#32342990)

    "Tomorrow when they get the unspoken mythical number correct"

    How obtuse you are. I have tried to trick out my girlfriends facebook privacy settings, but it seems there is always another page somewhere that you have to hunt for. Also, there is no quick and easy way to opt out of everything. You have to go to every app, every website that has a facebook tie in, every picture gallery, etc and change them ALL manually to opt out of "sharing my information with anyone who asks" mode.

    Its complete bullshit. sure, you can go into your filesystem ACLs and hand edit every file to have the correct permissions. No one does this however, and thats why you can apply permissions/acls RECURSIVELY from parent. What I would want for her is a big button that opts out of EVERYTHING. Add to that a nice concise privacy page. Note how i said PAGE, not pageS spread across the entirety on the site. Then I would say, add as many fiddily little options as you want. So long as the giant opt out button still works for them all, and when they add new features, they don't opt you in automatically, as is currently the case.

    I have always hated facebook, but I didnt know the true hate till i went to - or any number of a growing pool of "facebook connect" sites, and saw a picture of my girlfriend on there with the option to leave a comment about the site.
    What the fucking fuck! i still havent been able to turn that "feature" off yet, because i cant find the damn option! Aparently, if you have logged onto facebook (that day?), you are automatically "connected" to a host of other sites. So now i have to go to facebook and make sure my gf is logged out, every time i use the computer.

    Perhaps you could think of it as akin to a program which has zillions of undocumented commands. Amazingly powerful and yet completely useless at the same time. Sure some people have cracked the correct syntax to get facebook to perform the stop-auto-tie-in-to-all-garbage-sites option, but why the fuck should it be so hard?

    There is only one answer and one alone - deliberate obscurification and mis direction. It is the same answer as to why everything is opt OUT instead of opt IN on facebook. They rely on people being too lazy, confused and stupid to care.

    So stop apologizing for what is at best bad UI design, and at worst willful obscurification that leads too (surprise!), expanded profits for facebook.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:31PM (#32343046)
    But .... isn't this like saying that the "Iliad" wasn't written by Homer, but another Greek of the same name?

    If the fake-you does the stuff you do and you get targeted for it, then the fake-you is you. You just appear to be someone differently named on the internet.

  • by Whuffo ( 1043790 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:32PM (#32343054) Homepage Journal

    Supplying useful web services to a large number of people costs real money; it's not free. And there are no successful companies or corporations that give these services away for free - they get paid for them, and they're paid very well.

    So when you see a great new free web service you need to stop and think - it's not free, someone is paying for it and that someone is almost always the users. If you don't see the price tag then you don't want to play their game. In most cases, this benevolent company giving you a free service is building up user profiles that they sell to marketing companies. If you're big like Facebook or Google, you've got millions of those profiles and they're very detailed and also very valuable. But nobody ever thinks about this when they happily give up all kinds of personal info as they register for their free account.

    Google is pretty transparent about this stuff: they use the profile data to serve targeted ads and advertisers pay them a premium price for those ads. This wouldn't work without the information about you that Google has amassed but it's the source of all of their financial might. Who do you think pays Facebook's bills? That's right, and that's why their privacy options don't include any that would prevent them - and their "affiliates" - from collecting your personal data.

    That personal information is valuable and it's yours - and you give it away. Those corporations thank you for your generosity! Here's a tip for further study: view the mandatory privacy policy at any major web site; they'll tell you (sort of) what kind of data they collect - then promise to keep it safe and only give it to the government upon request and to their affiliates and/or third parties that supply some kind of service to the company. So what is an affiliate? Could one of them be the marketing clearinghouse that buys your personal profile? Could one be an Indian call center that will resell the data to anyone with the price? Could one of them be the guy with the CC skimmer? You'll never know; you'll just look at the privacy policy and say "that's cool" and click OK.

    You may have noticed that when ad blocking software is discussed it's the small websites that whine and cry about the loss of revenue. The big corporate sites only report what the small sites say because it serves to preserve the legend. Banner adds are small beans - but live and verified profiles are big money.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:38PM (#32343116)

    So your answer is completely unfeasible in the real world.

    Works in the one I live in.

    Dude, why did you even respond? Your "works for me" has nothing to do with the "do not use their services" doctrine.
    You are still using the services, you are just trying to block part of it that you don't like.

    The thing about noscript, it doesn't block everything. Not even close. Nor does adblock or ghostery. Adblock blocks ads, not trackers. I wish someone would maintain a list of trackers for adblock, but AFAIK nobody does. I routinely see trackers (1x1 images, invisible gifs, embedded frames, etc) from facebook, twitter, paypal and hundreds of others that adblock does not block by default.

    So congrats on blocking google-analytics, enjoy that false sense of security you've got going on, because that's all you've got.

  • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:57PM (#32343262)

    Since we're talking about hypothetical "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", let me throw one out:

    Companies SHOULDN'T be writing contracts that they know their customers won't understand.

    The street goes two ways.

  • by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:34PM (#32343576)
    This isn't a problem with facebook. This is a problem with digital cameras. If you don't want incriminating pictures of yourself on the internet don't do incriminating things, at least not in front of people with cameras whom you don't trust.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted@slasRABB ... minus herbivore> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:51PM (#32343710)

    What an idiotic logic. There in so “why you?”. It’s completely irrelevant. They don’t think why you. They simply index and analyze EVERYTHING. And yes, your personal life is important, since that is what marketing is interested in.

    It’s not that your personal data is more interesting. It is that ALL personal data is more interesting. From everyone. At the same time!

    You are not safe in numbers, since this is software that does not have to choose one fish in the swarm. It chooses them ALL.
    Nobody on the street cares, because there is only so much a human can care about at the same time.
    But a program can care about everything and everyone. At. the. same. time.

Mediocrity finds safety in standardization. -- Frederick Crane