Business Technology: Through The Prying Eyes Of 'Privacy Advocates' - InformationWeek

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06:11 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Business Technology: Through The Prying Eyes Of 'Privacy Advocates'

Fighting children's access to pornography is a noble cause, so Google must find a way to aggregate search information without compromising the privacy of individual customers, Bob Evans says.

"Oh, sorry, do you mind if I read over your shoulder?"

"Do I have a choice? You've been doing it for 10 minutes."

"I know it's rude, but I'm a privacy advocate. (I don't buy my own newspaper because I hate when people snoop into what I'm reading.) And that headline in your paper about 'Feds After Google Data' makes my skin crawl."

"The government's trying to find pornographers giving access to children -- is that what worries you?"

"I never worry about the details like who's after what or why they're after it -- see, I'm a privacy advocate, so it's like the old Groucho Marx song: 'I don't care what they have to say//It makes no difference anyway//Whatever it is I'm against it!' "

"Well, that's nice. So how 'bout I just give you the sports section, and you take it back to your own seat?"

"Yeah, but just a minute -- what does that sentence right there say? Lemme read that: The San Jose Mercury News story says, 'The case worries privacy advocates, given the vast amount of information Google and other search engines know about their users.' Now don't tell me that doesn't terrify you!' "

"Right -- I haven't slept a wink since Google was incorporated. But what in particular has you all upset?"

"You're not a privacy advocate, so you wouldn't understand what you're supposed to be worried about -- that's why I'm a 'privacy advocate.' I advocate for your privacy."

"Well, thank goodness for that. So what's your problem again?"

"It's right here in black and white in the article: 'This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared,' said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. 'The idea that these massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is a worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about letting Google deep into their lives.' Where is the outrage?!? Why aren't more people rallying behind their privacy advocates??"

"It seems the only people who are outraged and terrified are you and other so-called privacy advocates. Maybe most regular people think that the bigger outrage is pornographers serving filth up to kids, and maybe most regular people think that perhaps Google will find some way to cooperate."

Attackers without the skill to create their own malicious hacks can outsource their dirty business to others who will write the code for them and then offer services that keep these rootkits from being detected. It's the virtual version of Spy vs. Spy, with many black hats claiming that they're giving the technology world exactly what it needs -- tough love.

-- Larry Greenemeier, InformationWeek blog, Jan. 17

"Cooperate?!? Are you out of your mind? Cooperate today, and the government nationalizes the company tomorrow! Look at what else the privacy advocate in the story says: 'The government can't even claim that it's for national security,' Everett-Church said. 'They're just using it to get the search engines to do their research for them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.' "

"Or maybe the government's trying to compromise the effectiveness of the filthy swine who create, sell, and buy child pornography online."

"What in the world does that have to do with privacy advocates and our mission?"

"I hate to burst your bubble, bub, but in the interest of trying to protect children from pornographers, Microsoft and Yahoo and AOL have decided to cooperate with the government -- and they're doing that without compromising the privacy of their individual customers."

"That's not possible! What did the privacy advocates say?"

"Gee, somehow I didn't focus on that -- but according to InformationWeek, here's what Yahoo said: 'In our opinion, this is not a privacy issue .' And in the same story, Microsoft said, 'We did comply with [the government's] request for data in regards to helping protect children in a way that ensured we also protected the privacy of our customers.... We were able to share aggregated query data, not search results, that didn't include any personally identifiable information at their request.' Sounds pretty good to me."

"That's absurd -- this whole child-pornography fire alarm is just a smoke screen to undercut the authority of privacy advocates, and all these people from the government and Microsoft and Yahoo are trying to make privacy advocates look like narrow-minded, paranoid, on-the-fringe clowns!"

"Y'know, I'm not sure they're the ones who should get the credit for that.... But anyway, I'll make you a bet: By the end of this week, Google will come up with an effective and privacy-upholding way to assist the federal government in the noble cause of battling child pornography. And when Google joins Microsoft and Yahoo and AOL in doing this the right way, other companies will follow their examples and find ways to help protect children without compromising their customers' trust."

"Oh, please -- any privacy advocate will tell you that's not just impossible but also absurd and devious and dangerous and un-American! Because only privacy advocates know that when you're weighing the fight to protect children versus the impact of giving the media a screeching sound-bite that's sure to generate publicity, the choice is simple."

(Gathers his stuff.) "Pal, you're pathetic, and that's being kind. Microsoft and Yahoo have done the right thing and should be applauded, and I'm confident Google will follow suit soon. But here's a privacy-advocacy project that could actually generate some enthusiasm among regular people: Why don't you launch a campaign to protect the privacy of regular people from the unwanted sophomoric idiocy of self-appointed, misguided, and out-of-touch privacy advocates? That, I promise, would be a real winner -- you'll be quoted everywhere."

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

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