Google will now track your brick & mortar purchases

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Google will now track credit and debit card transactions at retail stores, in an effort to assess the effectiveness of their online advertising.

It will work like this:  A retailer places an ad with Google, which then targets likely buyers based on all the data it collects from our online visits.  With a tie-in to the retailer’s records, Google can associate the store’s customers with the ads, thereby proving their effectiveness.

Google is reassuring the public that the information will be converted to numbers so that the individual purchasers will not be identified, thus protecting their privacy.

Does that make you feel better?

The public would be up in arms if the government collected so much information about us.  Is it all that much better if a private corporation collects so much information about us?

But what if the data show that online advertising does not work all that well?  A television commercial, representing the biggest advertising vehicle that Google competes with, may be far more sophisticated in persuading people to buy things than those annoying little boxes that Google puts up when we are trying to do something else online.  Perhaps the technology will develop to the point of self-destruction, destroying Google’s business model.

At any rate, just remember that Google is watching you.  And not only when you are online.

UPDATE:  This article explains more.  It says that Google already has access to 70% of all U.S. credit and debit card transactions!  This is “through partnerships with other companies that track that data.”  How can that be allowed?

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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?

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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…]