Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Privacy Schmivacy

I'm sooooooooooooo bored with the privacy debate at this point. 

Google's Eric Schmidt just can't keep his foot out of his mouth.

The guy has a proclivity for giving Big Brother-like quotes to the press—which would be quaint if the guy didn't have so much access to so much of our private information.

Do Google's flacks sweat when Schmidt gives an interview? Or are they stuck in the Google Is Good bubble with him, helped along by a mostly admiring press, as well as gurus whoimplicitly compare the company to Jesus Christ? 

So, no, I don't think that Google is "good", however you should choose to define that.  I think they are a business.  I think they respond to the market, and yes, shape the market to some extent as well.  But the truth is that almost nobody cares about privacy, and the media pushing it with scary stories is, coincidentally, the very same media that is getting crushed as we all spend more time on the internet.  The idea that "the media", especially the WSJ, admires Google is nuts.  Murdoch never fails to use the Journal's pseudo-reporting to stick his thumb in their eye.  So every day we have to read through the same cycle of scare stories.  Every day people get up in arms about Facebook's privacy terms, and every day they go right back to doing the same damn things they did yesterday.  These companies are responding to the market, and the market -- the real market that votes with its time and attention and not with breathless column inches produced by plagiarising sub-hacks -- is telling them that it doesn't give a shit about privacy.  

There's a real story here, but it's not that Google or Facebook are terrible Big Brother monopolies.  Think about it for a second.  What awful things can Google do to you, exactly?  Do you think they're going to start blackmailing you with photos of your last Halloween costume that you uploaded to Picassa?  The danger is not from the companies, it's from the government.  From the government using the companies.   Apropos of my last screed about functional anarchy, the problem is that these monopolies could become part of the big monopoly in the sky.  More competition would in theory be lovely, though there are clear networks effects in these businesses that would make little sense to break up.  In lieu of more competition, the thing to do is not to let the Biggest Brother regulate the market's failure to account for some supposed externality of lost privacy.  It's not to centralize everything in one Panopticon; it is to build a firebreak between these monopolies and the government.  The only thing worse than the current privacy regime would be the government taking over the system.  

If you think getting Congress involved in guaranteeing your privacy is going to give you more of it, I would encourage you to submit the details of your dealer's whereabouts in the comments section -- you are smoking some quality kind.


I know that Tech Crunch is not exactly the go to place for careful, thoughtful analysis, but still, this post perfectly indicates the overall half-wit-ed-ness of this debate.  

Google made their "opt out of street view" service live in Germany today, giving select Germans until September 15th to exclude their properties from being mapped when the Street View service launches. The function will be available for a limited time in the 20 cities that are mentioned which includes Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg and then extend to all cities covered as Google Maps Germany rolls out.
While I've contacted Google for analytics on the number of people who have requested building camoflaging, the fact that private citizens can mass opt out of certain Google search functions is unprecedented until now. Why not give people the option to opt out of search entirely? After all, a hypothetical "Opt out" or rather "Do not index these pages I swear are about me and harmful" is considerably less far-fetched a privacy solution than Erick Schmidt's suggestion that people change their names.

What gives this twit the right to force Google not to index the blog entry in which I call him a twit?  

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