From Big Brother to lots of Little Brothers

A review of two books on what today’s technology does to privacy quotes a useful metaphor from one of the authors.  George Orwell warned against “Big Brother,” an all-knowing government that wants to track your every move.  Today the bigger threat is from lots of “Little Brothers,” a multitude of corporations, companies, and online mechanisms that want to track your every move. [Read more...]

Intrusive corporations

An executive with Uber, the app-based cab service, said how he wants to spend $1 million to dig up dirt on its critics, wanting to get at “your personal lives, your families.”  This from the same company that blogged about the data it has on its riders’ “brief overnight weekend stays”; that is, sexual rendezvous.

But Uber is not the only company that is amassing vast stores of personal data on its customers and that is not afraid to use it.  We worry about an intrusive government invading our privacy and taking away our liberties.  But we have constitutional protection against that, for whatever that is worth.  But what about intrusive companies invading our privacy and taking away our liberties? [Read more...]

Our monitors want software that detects sarcasm

The Secret Service is in the market for software that can detect sarcasm. That way the government agencies that monitor what you say on the internet will be able to tell whether you are joking if you threaten the president or if you really mean it.

Two points of interest here:  The government is really serious about monitoring Facebook, Twitter, and other internet media, doing continual automated monitoring of anything that might be construed as threatening statements.  Note how this could be both used and abused.

There is also the technical problem of a software program being able to detect language that does not mean exactly what it says.  How can a mechanized process determine the possible meanings and intentions of a statement such as “I’m going to kill him!”  Attention to context, of course, would help.  (Note to government monitors of this blog:  The statement before the previous sentence is for illustrative purposes only.)  But there is not always clear context.  “Artificial intelligence” can only take us so far in emulating the human mind, since intelligence is only one of many faculties of the mind, which also include imagination, the will, emotion, as well as complicated uses such as play, humor, fiction, and self-expression. [Read more...]

Getting information about a person just by staring

There is a new app that would give anyone access to  facial recognition software.  Use Google Glasses to look at someone, whereupon you will then tap into that person’s online profiles, social media networks, relationship status, arrest records, and whatever else is online.  Right now, Google is not allowing this app for use on its glasses, but the potential is there and the software can potentially be used on other devices.

This is being called “The End of Privacy.”  The app seems to have been written for guys in bars trying to pick up women.

Again, I ask, if it would be wrong for the government to violate people’s privacy like this, why is it OK for corporate America or individuals wearing geeky-looking glasses to violate people’s privacy?

[Read more...]

Privacy vs. anonymity

Yale constitutional law professor Jed Rubenfeld makes a distinction that, I think, advances the debate over government and corporate surveillance:  Privacy refers to the content of our communications, which is protected constitutionally.  But the fact of our communications, which the NSA is exploiting, is not.  What we need, Prof. Rubenfeld says, is legal protection for anonymity, so that individuals cannot be identified without due process. [Read more...]

Google invading your car

If you have a newish car, you can already integrate it with your smartphone, answering your cell with a button on your steering wheel and carrying on cellphone conversations through your car’s speakers.  You can even buy “apps” for your car.  But when your car is your phone and your computer, outside entities are getting their hooks into you.  The price of getting information from the web is that the web is getting information on you.

Now Google has announced new initiatives with auto manufacturers, turning cars into Android devices.  This will allow Google–along with its client companies and its government snoopers–to collect all kinds of personal information about the drivers.  Google will be able to place ads– tailor made just for you and your buying weaknesses–right into your car.

Won’t that be a great advance in automotive technology? [Read more...]


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