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Is the solution for privacy openness?

Google has updated its privacy policy. They want us to know that employees don't necessarily have access to the data they collect and that they promise to criminally prosecute any employee who violates those boundaries.

It's all great, and I'm sure that the people responsible really believe what they wrote. But it's a big company, and just as lawyers can differ over the interpretation of a contract, privacy policies can be read in varying context. Beyond that, you have to catch somebody before you can prosecute them. Google's incredible wealth of personal information is too tempting to remain free of avarice.

There is a simple way for Google to eliminate all its privacy concerns: make it all open.

That is, make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to have access to everything Google knows about you and me, right down to ip address, date, time, pages visited (collected from Adsense data), and so on. They'd never do that, of course, and if they did we'd all be screaming bloody blue murder. And yet, that data is potentially available now, policy guidelines be damned.

Sometimes I think that openness is the only final answer. If you don't have privacy anywhere, your privacy can't be abused. Your behavior might change: if you know that video cameras are watching you wherever you are, you won't be breaking littering laws. If every keystroke you type at your computer is available to the world, you aren't likely to be soliciting sex from minors.

We'd lose a lot in such a world, and it's impossible for most of us to imagine going willingly to such an Orwellian existence. Yet technology may make it impossible for us to avoid: if people can record our activity without our knowledge, it might be better to just make everything transparent so that we know what everyone else is up to also. Knowledge is power, as they say, and fortunes are made and lost with secrecy. Our world is slowly becoming more transparent, so keeping secrets is more and more difficult. Perhaps the day will come when we'll just drop all the veils.

Google isn't dropping much right now, of course.



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Thu May 21 06:17:44 2009: 6389   anonymous

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On the contrary, the technology to secure our privacy (cryptography) already exists, but we simply choose not to utilise it. We can encrypt our data, but almost never do. There are lots of ways to encrypt emails, but we rarely do it. Privacy can be ensured with VoIP using ZRTP, yet most of us just blindly trust Skype with it. We happily use debit and credit cards to make purchases when anonymous digital cash exists and would be in wide use if only people valued their privacy. We give corporations and governments far more personal information than we actually have to, and while I don't agree with your suggestion, I do think it would lead to a much needed wakeup call to the masses.





Sat Oct 31 11:31:03 2009: 7397   TonyLawrence

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Scott Adams has a post about the same idea: (link)

The reader reaction runs on both sides, but most seem worried about their privacy.

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