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Consolidation, paranoia, and IM-creeps oh my!

First, our friend the search engine…

Search data recently released from AOL allows anyone with some intrepid follow-up skills and some social engineering to quickly narrow in on unique individuals – individuals who never considered their independent searches were being aggregated by their ISP. A recent flurry of activity designed to protect us from the search engines signals a slumbering uneasiness with this situation. Something dark has been uncovered and in the short term there is much handwaving and interest. However, as time passes, we’ll fall back into our ‘normal’ ways and continue to put our most personal information-seeking into that gloriously simple bare single box. “It’s just too convenient”, you say. “They’ve done nothing wrong.”

And here’s where the discussion changes. It’s not about Google. Or MSN. Or Yahoo. It’s about one person. Or one subpeona. The fact that it’s all being aggregated is the problem. The fact that there’s a potential for negligence, court-order or simple employee curiosity has profound implications for a great number of people. That is what makes this discussion so important.

Note that the reason employees could inappropriately access sensitive information was because it was sitting in databases they could get to – not because it was present on a card in someone’s wallet.

Centralized databases worry me way more than any other aspect of this technology.

Kim Cameron

We need to understand that our daily breadcrumbs – our attention – our personal interests in where we’re going and what we’re looking for and what we’re buying, are all being sucked up and stored with a unique identifier. We need to realize we’re broadcasting our attention and that it has great value to those who would suck it up. Inform yourself and make a conscious decision about where you spend your time and what you look for. You’re not alone while you surf. AOL has shown us the light.

And onto IM…

Most users think they’re anonymous behind their instant messenger accounts. They think their words aren’t being recorded. You think your friend on the other end of the IM doesn’t have her auto-logging turned on? And that it’s not fully searchable later? Severe paranoia and tin-foil hats notwithstanding, you’re being very naive.

And that’s just your friends. How about when the person on the other end reports you?

Earlier this week the UK government-funded Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre announced a partnership with Microsoft Messenger. Messenger will be putting a button on the toolbar to allow any user to ‘report abuse’ to the authorities. This is a dangerous precedent. How is this any different than the Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS) program proposed by the US back in 2002?

How much money will be tied up in the next 12 months because of this trigger being too easy to pull? How many prank reports will eat through the government funding? How will danah boyd react to the feeding frenzy this will create once the first one is ‘caught’?

Be aware of what you project. Be aware that this is a global medium. Be aware that it’s being broadcast and recorded. This Internet thing will be around for a while.

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  1. […] Through the miracle of pingbacks I just came across Terrell Russell’s blog, This Old Network.   Poking around, I came across his cool proposal for MicroIDs, which I like and will discuss later.  I also found many interesting pieces, including today’s interesting reflection related to issues addressed in my fourth law of identity: First, our friend the search engine… […]