TOC Beyond the Horizon Your Turn

October 23, 2007

As Laura M. Holson reports (*), Verizon Wireless wrote to its customers about "sharing information from their calling records with its "affiliates, agents and parent companies"". No need to be Cassandra (1) to see another rout for eprivacy. Sunrise will follow dawn.

Despite all the emollient palinodes flowing from its lip service and duly relayed by Laura M. Holson, Verizon has sprung the trap. "Affiliate" is a codeword for anyone willing to pay, we have seen this before. Also quoted in the report and similar to highway robbery, the phrase "by using the services you expressly authorize us to use your information" is designed to coerce user consent. Can one live today without a cellular phone?

"It wouldn't surprise me if they are trying to get [...] a customer profile", declares Gene Kimmelman from Consumers Union according to Laura M. Holson. Indeed this is nothing but a fit of Google envy. If Google can get away with turning our searches into a profile to reap the benefits of personalized advertising, why can't Verizon do the same with our phone calls? Since it decided to deploy mobile phone advertisements, Verizon has been working hard to remove all obstacles and maximize the resulting windfall.

The latest mobile phones are far more powerful than personal computers were twenty years ago. Look beyond the network. This privacy invasion by Verizon is but one natural daughter of two well known and prolific parents:

Cassandra would have no problem fleshing out our future more fully. The bigger the public square, the more prying eyes, the more policemen.

Eric Lichtblau reminds us about the efforts of the US government to eavesdrop on individuals beyond current legal bounds (**). Alan Cane writes about industrial espionage on the Internet (***) and quotes Jay Heiser from Gartner. "Negative information [...] spreads with frightening speed and becomes virtually impossible to erase". This judicious comment applies to individual and corporate victims alike. Worried about your credit report? Now expect your secret profile to be defiled unbeknownst to you and all the affiliates of the world to share its shady truths behind your back.

Meanwhile more police is on the way. The US government justifies eavesdropping, as any of its data gathering activities, in the name of security. Now Aline Van Duyn reports on the attorney-general of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and his initiative to protect children from the dangers of social sites (****). Will age verification for all be the solution?

Of course age verification is the solution, but not if it turns policemen into spies and puts more confidential data in the hands of national data aggregators. To be considerate, age verification should give each user ownership of his or her individual profile and requires that profiles get recommended by decentralized, local agents. Much as documents are notarized, technology exists to do the same with digital profile information (2).

Cassandra can be heard but will anyone heed her voice?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) .......... Verizon Letter On Privacy Stirs Debate, by Laura M. Holson (New York Times) - October 16, 2007
  • (**) ....... Phone Utilities Won't Give Details About Eavesdropping, by Eric Lichtblau (New York Times) - October 16, 2007
  • (***) ..... Spies using a new range of tools, by Alan Cane (Financial Times) - October 17, 2007
  • (****) .. Pressure mounts on social websites to check ages, by Aline Van Duyn (Financial Times) - October 17, 2007
  • (1) see Cassandra in the wikipedia
  • (2) for more information, see for example US Patent Application 2006/0053279 by Philippe Coueignoux
October 2007
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