Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which Curmudgeon tries to scare his few remaining readers offline....

The bad news this morning is that Google is turning over more and more user data to law enforcement investigators, without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

The good news, according to the linked article by Matthew Sledge on HuffPost Tech, is that Google is telling us about it.

Well... I suppose it is better to know that these sorts of things are going on, and indeed becoming increasingly routine, than to live in blissful ignorance. Probably.

Oh, and one other thing: Sledge writes that "Google received 21,839 user data requests from foreign governments in the second half of 2012, a significant increase from the 18,257 it got in the same time period the year before."

(Sledge's article is drawn from Google's Transparency Report, posted yesterday on Google's Official Blog.)

Meanwhile, yesterday on the Atlantic Monthly website, we have a chilling story by Megan Garber, "'Current Employers of People Who Like Racism' ... and More Actual Facebook Graph Searches."

A Brit named Tom Scott was one of the first to get access to the newly announced Facebook search engine (they're rolling it out slowly). He started playing around with it and posting his results (with identifying individual characteristics generally fuzzed out), on a Tumblr blog called Actual Facebook Searches. The response, he writes, has been overwhelming, all for "a cheap joke I cobbled together in an hour or so."

Oh, but what a dangerous joke...

“Spouses of married people who like [cheat-on-your-partner dating site] Ashley Madison”

He ran a search for married men who like prostitutes -- and got back results that offered to identify the spouses of those men. And he did another one for "Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran" -- that's a death penalty offense over there, kids -- or "Current employers of people who like racism" -- he didn't fuzz out the results showing such employers to be the U.S. Air Force, Target, McDonald's....

Mr. Scott has posted some FAQs at his site. An excerpt:
Aren’t you giving ideas to repressive governments?
I’d bet money they’ve already thought of it and have already done those searches. The searches I’m making now were suggested on the day that Facebook Graph Search was announced, more than a week ago.
Also, I think they have more accurate and time-tested intelligence-gathering services than Facebook Graph Search. See the next question:
Isn’t Facebook’s data so bad that it doesn’t matter?
In many cases, but not in all.
Searching for family members, for example, is often disrupted by the (mostly teenage) people who’ve marked friends as their family. And for the “Iranian men who like men” search, a lot of that may be mistranslation: it could be interpreted as the literal ‘interested in meeting’ rather than ‘would like to date’.
I’m freaked out now. What’s your advice?
If it’d be awkward if it was put on a screen in Times Square, don’t put it on Facebook. Oh, and check your privacy settings again.
As I was expressing my anxieties about these latest technological breakthroughs at home, my son-in-law Olaf tried to comfort me with what he said is an old maxim of the Internet: If you're not paying for it, you are the product being sold.

Hard as I tried, I could not find a way to feel all warm and fuzzy about that.


Anonymous said...

Hey is there an email for you cause I can tell you something else that will not make you feel all warm and fuzzy?

The Curmudgeon said...

There's an email link in the Sidebar... you have to scroll down a bit, but it's there.

My Closet of Anxieties is getting crowded, though....