TOC Fat chance for Privacy Your Turn

July 31, 2007

Paul Taylor recently gave us the case for so-called thin clients (*). Is this just another attack against fat, a growing health issue in the US? Although thin clients are machines, not human beings, the parallels are uncanny. Being thin essentially makes accidents and viral infections less likely.

If one takes the long view, this is another illustration of history unfolding as a helix. While networks has made great strides in the past 35 years, thin clients are nothing but terminals in disguise and old IBM hands must be rejoicing to see the dawn of a new golden age for data centers.

I invite my readers to dig a bit deeper. While in theory one can conceive of ways to enforce user rights to data privacy with thin clients, fat clients offer the only practical solution. If all personal information reside in those data centers, their administrators face an overwhelming temptation to mine it for profit and not for profit. I find it cold comfort that, unlike in Orwell's dystopia, we actually face a multiplicity of Big Brothers.

Paul Taylor is right to emphasize that thin clients are easier to use. Like privacy, democracy is messier and more demanding of each individual. Shall we pine then for absolute monarchy?

Big Brotherly Love of course is not without its own difficulties. For example many of the more successful data centers are but recommendation mechanisms, held forever responsible of cleaning up after their users. Google's fight with Viacom on YouTube postings, is well known(**). Now Brad Stone tells us about the difficulties Facebook faces to purge itself of sexual predators (***).

In a world devoid of real individual rights to eprivacy, even the companies which act as blind conduits are taken to task, as Adam Jones reports in a review of Denis Olivennes' book (****). No wonder.

  • since they have little rights, users behave irresponsibly
  • In need of targets to hold responsible for piracy, content providers and distributors would love to make Internet service providers pay
Yet is the Postal Service liable for all the fraudulent mail it carries? Rather the law puts a heavier penalty of criminals who use mail. Could it be because postal mail privacy is a reality?

I have a dream where Google does not read the emails it carries, where large retailers, whether Amazon or the FNAC, the French competitor headed by Denis Olivennes, do not mine their account holders' profiles to increase marketing pressure, where all thin clients die of terminal anorexia.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ........ The beauty of being thin, by Paul Taylor (Financial Times) - July 26, 2007
  • (**) ...... For YouTube, a System to Halt Copyright-Infringing Videos, Associated Press (New-York Times) - July 28, 2007
  • (***) .... New Scrutiny for Facebook Over Predators on Its Web Site, by Brad Stone (New-York Times) - July 30, 2007
  • (****) .. A cri de coeur against media piracy, by Adam Jones (Financial Times) - July 30, 2007
July 2007
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