Thursday, January 19, 2006

don't look now ...

I had a little email exchange with Gobbergo in which we lamented the things that inhibit a carefree immursion in all the wonderful goodies the internet offers, such as communing with people you don't yet know (like, for example, fellow book-lovers, or movie-lovers, or music-lovers). It's particularly annoying that the risks we face include dissemination of such apparently innocuous little bits of data as the search-history trails accumulated by Google as you use it on your home or work computer - bits that -- through data mining techniques -- can be used to compromise your privacy even where your pc hasn't been told who you are in real life (though many have that info).

So here's an instance of why it's important to worry about these things. Google is one of the cleanest, most trustworthy, and well-intentioned of corporate monsters that exists, but what about the other search engines mentioned in the post that lamely handed over databases to the Government? And, with regard to Google, they can resist, but they can't give an iron-clad guarantee that they'll protect our privacy. They can only do their best. {Note: it's very worthwhile clicking on the link that Battelle gives at the end of the post and exploring the "Patriot Search" site fully -- including mission, search syntax, and privacy policy.} here's the report from John Battelle:

Don't Look Now, But It's Happening<

From my book, written a year or so ago:

As we move our data to the servers at,,, and, we are making an implicit bargain, one that the public at large is either entirely content with, or, more likely, one that most have not taken much to heart.
That bargain is this: we trust you to not do evil things with our information. We trust that you will keep it secure, free from unlaw-ful government or private search and seizure, and under our control at all times. We understand that you might use our data in aggregate to provide us better and more useful services, but we trust that you will not identify individuals personally through our data, nor use our personal data in a manner that would violate our own sense of privacy and freedom.

That’s a pretty large helping of trust we’re asking companies to ladle onto their corporate plate. And I’m not sure either we or they are entirely sure what to do with the implications of such a transfer. Just thinking about these implications makes a reasonable person’s head hurt.

From the Mercury News, today:

The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google Inc. to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.

The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content inaccessible to minors.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

The Mountain View-based search engine opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's effort ``vigorously.''

...The government indicated that other, unspecified search engines have agreed to release the information, but not Google. (emphasis is Batelle's)

Of course the Bush administration started with the cover of "fighting child porn." Do you think that's all they've asked for?

Of course not. Bravo, Google, for fighting this. Don't give up the fight. It's not just about this one request. This is a major, major moment. And shame on the other engines for not standing up and fighting.

(And while I'm tossing out kudos, bravo on the two tier Internet stance, as well.)

Update: Philipp has a hilarious send up here - "Patriot Search."

1 comment:

GobberGo said...

I've become a big fan of the Colbert Report (pronounced "cole-bear ree-pore") on Comedy Central. It's a spinoff of The Daily Show with John Stewart, but it goes all kinds of places that show has never gone. Rather than propping itself up as another satiric news show, the Colbert Report is a mostly dead-pan parody of talking head shows like The O'Reilly Factor and Hardball. I've come to really appreciate how Steven Colbert can manage to maintain a completely ironic persona of a pontificating uber-conservative and yet manage put on brilliantly hilarious and ingenuative shows for liberal audiences four days a week. A favorite sketch was when Colbert had Stone Phillips on the show for a "Gravitas-Off" match--the two of them saying the most ridiculous headline-style things with as much gravitas as possible.

Anyway, that's a long way of introducing something which is actually related to your post. My favorite repeating sketch on the Colbert Report is his "Word of the Day" -- a segment where Steven sermonizes while a power-point style presentation silently displays hilarious counterpoints. As it would happen, the Word for Thursday was "Public-See" (as opposed to "privacy"). "Give me liberty ... or give me 10% off [at Petco]." He even gets a little jab in at bloggers. Nothing will probably ever displace the Gravitas-Off as my favorite sketch, but this one is definitely second place now. Very funny. Check it out. And check out the link on Gravitas-Off to see streaming video of that one too. Both require a high-speed connection and WMP.