Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Do no evil

Time for a sermon children, a caution on the ills of our world. For those that have been known me for a while, you know I am on the inside of an industry that thirsts for knowledge of your person. Either at my finger tips, through my staff, or any of a number of acquaintances and business relationships I have access to pretty well all the commercial knowledge out there. From the littlest details I can find out a rather amazing array of information about you.

It really is quite astonishing, salaries, employers, addresses, hobbies, credit ratings, social status, purchase histories, even pschycographic profiles of what sort of person you are. Its all there, and not that hard to get at. Admittedly I'm inside the industry, but it doesn't take much to get access, any determined individual can go fish the see of data out there.

There are many culprits in this theft of privacy, but to me one of the most interesting is a small outfit called Google (next of course to our dear government, but that is a sermon for another day). They are amongst the most rapacious reapers of raw raw data. Curiously the two hip gentlemen who founded the company gave it a motto of "Do no evil". I can only think they have a very odd definition of what is evil.

For example, do you have the Google toolbar installed on your web browser? Not sure? Look up, is there a long bar on the header with various buttons and the google logo? Many people find this a very useful tool, and indeed it is well designed with lots of clever functions. Did you know though, that even when you don't actively use it, all of your web activity is sent in small packets to one of a number of rather massive data centres dotting the globe? Against your identifier all the web pages you've visited, all the ecommerce you've done is stored away. They don't pry into your finances, no, none of that, but they do know everything you've done.

The same goes for any of the google pages itself, plus blogger, plus YouTube, plus plus plus. Every little click you make, every thing you do is tracked and stored away.

To be fair to google, they did ask your permission to do this. Its all tucked away in the terms and conditions. Also, at the moment, they actually don't do much with this massive mountain of data. Yet.

There are plans though. Ad words already targets based on content of the page, and some basic knowledge of the viewer. Google just bought a small company called DoubleClick last year. This little firm handles a vast majority of the on line advertising (you know, those annoying banners and boxes that flash and sing to you). Work is deeply underway to merge the workings so that advertising will become every more targeted and specific.

This is no easy thing, the amount of data is huge, truly massive, but technology is moving apace. And all of those details, all of those facts will be mined to figure out just what sort of person you are, and just what you'd like to buy.

So, maybe it will be useful to you. But maybe, just maybe you don't like it. It is, admittedly, hard to stop, deleting the tool bar will help, but its easy to track one on the web. Not storing cookies on your PC will help, but some websites just don't work well without them (try deleting your blogger cookie some day). Its hard to stay private on the web, very very hard.

Try though people, do try. I really don't want to know as much about you as I do. I'd far rather have you tell me in person, than mine and inviggle my way through your information history. We should have some privacy in the world, but we must also take responsibility for guarding it. So do, please. Watch what you do and which websites you visit. Take care of your data, because no one else will.

Thus endeth the day's lesson.


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