TOC In Google we trust Your Turn

April 29, 2008

In the past twelve months, these fillips have chronicled the dawn of behavioral advertising (1). With the acquiescence of both US and EU regulatory bodies, Google's acquisition of DoubleClick heralds a brave new world indeed. Who can claim to be surprised by Richard Waters' report on Google's lack of progress at tackling the privacy issues raised by cookies (*)? Rare is the winner who negotiates away a victory. Lamenting this "Cookie monster" (**), the editorial voice of the Financial Times painfully reminds us how ineffectual mainstream media has become. As it carefully avoides inquiring about potential solutions, the media reinforces the status quo it purports to oppose.

Overall the greater awareness about eprivacy risks I mentioned on New Year's day is drowned by the apparent intractability of the issues. In an article inspired by Montgomery's book "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" (***), Drake Bennet quotes the author as saying "managing [...] slow-motion problems is the hardest because it never becomes a crisis". Such is the fight for data rights. Reading the press gives a sense of déjà vu.

Tim Arango analyses how sports franchises fight to increase control over the data rights generated by their teams (****). Déjà vu. Andrea Estes and Stephen Kurkjian give us the dirt on the Massachusetts scalping bill (*****). Déjà vu. Stephanie Saul exposes how some authors of medical research papers falsified their involvement for material gain (******). Déjà vu. Paul Taylor shows us how distorted our profile can become in the online mirror (*******). Déjà vu. What about Jennifer Steinhauer's account of how hospital employees violated the privacy of patient records (********)? Déjà vu. John Markoff tells us how phishing has morphed into whaling (*********). Déjà vu. Maija Palmer reports about cyber crime attacks in the UK (**********). Déjà vu.

What about Andrew Pollack's story on the bill passed by the US Congress forbidding health plans and employers to discriminate on the basis of genetic information (***********)? Doesn't it eliminate concerns about genetic testing I mentioned two years ago? Yes, this is a new, welcome development. But once again forgive my French. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

GINA (2) lets employers free to "purchase[..] documents that are commercially and publicly available (including newspapers, magazines, periodicals and books, but not including medical databases or court records) that include family medical history". Call me naive or obsessed but isn't this list of commercial sources, which ignores the web, hopelessly passé.

Users afflicted with a genetic condition will most certainly look it up online. Since search-based user profiles are neither medical databases nor court records, doesn't it create a new, lucrative market for Google, whose role falls outside of the reach of GINA? If Google sells such inferred genetic information, collected as a matter of course without the "prior, knowing, voluntary, and written authorization" GINA mandates, and if Catbert (3), the evil Human Resources Director, may buy it, who will prove he did not use it to reach a decision unfavorable to an employee?

Even better. Google is well known for its propensity to digitize every library in sight. If Google scans court records and merges the result with its own consumer profiles, will it not effectively launder the information the legislator intended to put out of bound?

Oblivious to obvious conflicts of interest, the US Congress overlooks the nature of personal data mining. Its motto is "In Google we trust".

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) .......................... Google resolve crumbles on 'cookies' pledge, by Richard Waters (Financial Times) - April 20, 2008
  • (**) ....................... Cookie monster, editorial (Financial Times) - April 23, 2008
  • (***) ..................... The future of dirt, by Drake Bennet (Boston Globe) - April 27, 2008
  • (****) .................. Teams and the Press Battle Over the Right to News In the New Media, by Tim Arango (New York Times) - April 21, 2008
  • (*****) ................ Just the ticket for brokers, by Andrea Estes and Stephen Kurkjian (Boston Globe) - April 27, 2008
  • (******) .............. Merck Wrote Drug Studies For Doctors, by Stephanie Saul (New York Times) - April 16, 2008
  • (*******) ............ Two faces of people search, by Paul Taylor (Financial Times) - April 24, 2008
  • (********) ......... California Hospital Faces Sanctions After Workers Wrongly Looked at Patient Records,
    .............................. by Jennifer Steinhauer (New York Times) - April 8, 2008
  • (*********) ....... Larger Prey Are Targets of Phishing, by John Markoff (New York Times) - April 16, 2008
  • (**********) .... UK business falls victim to surge in cyber attacks, by Maija Palmer (Financial Times) - April 22, 2008
  • (***********) .. Genetic-Discrimination Ban Moves Ahead in Congress, by Andrew Pollack (New York Times) - April 23, 2008
  • (1) look up "personal data collection/aggregation" and "personalized advertising" in the index of major themes
  • (2) see the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed on April 25, 2008
  • (3) see a presentation of Catbert by its creator
April 2008
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