Saturday, March 12, 2016

Privacy on the Internet

It is delusional, of course, to assume that privacy on the Internet is anything more than an illusion.


Consider the prime rule of investigative journalism:  Follow the money.

As one example, Wall Street values Facebook at $200/world-wide-user.  Since the majority of Facebook users are in what are charitably known as "developing" countries, that means that Facebook users who are US citizens must pull up the average.  Conservatively, they must be valued at something north of $700/user.

If you are a Facebook user, are YOU paying $70 a year for the privilege?  Nope.  Nobody is.  It is impossible to put "a meter" (like a taxi cab) on the Internet.

So how will Google and Facebook and Linkedin and Twitter and all of the other wannabes create a revenue stream out of their users to justify those lofty market valuations?  The answer should be obvious.  They will sell your information.

There is an inherent asymmetry in the sale of private information that is troubling.  In an explicit transaction I have the ability to opt out.  Suppose somebody walked up to me on the street and offered me $6 for both of my kidneys.    I would then run through some quick mental calculations and decide which offered me more utility, $6 or my kidneys.

Third parties selling your information removes you from that decision.  Under the fine print you gave away your control over your personal information.  Think about it, nobody is going to pay $700 for information about your eye color.  They are paying for the good stuff, the highly profitable stuff.  And as highly profitable as it is to them, it will be even more unprofitable to you.  Otherwise you would have already "sold" it.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto

"I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me."  -Publius Terentius Afer
Nor is any human absolutely immunized against perpetrating any of the crimes recorded in the annals of history.  Pol Pot can happen again.  Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung will all happen again.

The unlikely becomes inevitable as the population grows.  Belladonna thinks my concerns are absurd but she is visualizing the 50 people she knows best.  A one-in-a-million event is invisible in nearly all samples of 50 people but becomes inevitable in a nation of 317 million.

Can you imagine Hitler with access to social media?  Can you imagine him with every citizen willingly carrying around a microphone and a camera that can be turned on remotely?  Can you imagine him with voice-to-text capability, databases and the computer ability to search through those databases?  Can you imagine those smartphones with their batteries locked so they cannot be removed (iPhones)?

The Diary of Anne Frank would not make it past the first paragraph.

Picture in your head what would happen if the word C-U-N-T were strongly correlated to terrorists activities.  The more often a person said C-U-N-T the more likely they were to commit multiple murders and crimes-of-mass-destruction.

How long do you think it would take to identify the 1000 biggest users of that word?  Perhaps a week to write and download the software to the devices, another week to gather data and a day to crunch it.  And then those same smartphones will happily tell the authorities their GPS coordinates for easy collection.

Their infraction? Guilty of pre-crime.  This is already being tested in Fresno, California.

That might almost seem value added to most Americans.  But what if the "crime" was to utter the words, "Mrs Clinton is a weak president."  That scares me.


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