TOC The forest for the tree Your Turn

July 8, 2008

Warning two weeks ago about attempts to get or to offer something for nothing, we showed such situations can occur even if other parts of the deal receive real consideration. Joe Nocera's analysis of day care at Google (*) gives us an example rife with irony. When it became apparent to Google its employee policy amounted to offer parents something for nothing, its management promptly clamped down on the scheme. Were Google users in a position to reciprocate! Remember Google is currently busy getting our confidential data for nothing.

Yet penning too many fillips (1) about Google's greed carries the risk of their being perceived as anti-Google. This would be a tragic mistake. Rather they are pro-privacy. If they track Google's progress towards Hell, it is only because the new dominant software platform provides a natural focus. Beyond it though, one should not miss the forest for the tree.

Our Western society itself is under indictment. For it reduces eprivacy to an afterthought, witness the words we use and the wishes we make. According for instance to Lynnley Browning' report on the legal travails of "a former private banker at JPMorgan Chase" (**), "the bank accused [him] of not only stealing client money but also taking confidential data on clients". When it comes down to confidential data, one does not steal, one only takes. To add to the confusion, the bank "[seeks] to force [him] to return the data". As if it had not retained the original on its own computers. As if it thought one could prevent more copies from having been made by the rogue banker. When both language and logic fail can Justice prevail?

For another perspective, read Doreen Carvajal's filing on a recent legal decision against eBay (***). "eBay [...] was not doing enough to stamp out counterfeit sales". Accordingly it is ordered to pay 40 millions euros to LVMH, whose name had been stolen by rogue eBay users. Will credit report bureaus be equally penalized for not doing enough to stamp out ID theft by their own rogue users? In the victims' dreams! Laws are a commodity for sale and nobility rests on the privileges of brand, not birth. A few days ago we celebrated Independence Day, in a few more days we will celebrate Bastille Day. More than 200 years later we still must fight for our constitutional rights and equality for all.

Lack of consideration for eprivacy is fraught with consequences. Nine months ago Brad Stone showed Facebook's valuation depends on its ability to monetize user profiles via targeted advertising, i.e privacy violation. He now estimates "[its] real valuation [...] is probably somewhere between $15 billion and $3.75 billion" (****). Perhaps the higher value assumes replicating the success of search engines and cookie-driven ad networks. Maybe the lower estimate reflects the greater difficulty encountered by social sites to carry out privacy violations with the proper degree of stealth.

Worse still, ignoring privacy altogether seems the preferred way to solve all kinds of issues. Does security prompt the United States to screen travelers and money transfers? Charlie Savage (*****) reports the European Union is near ratifying a pact which would make it "legal to transfer personal information to the United States". Does Viacom want to fight copyright violations? Miguel Helft (******) writes that "a federal judge has ordered Google to turn over [...] its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube". Does the Internal Revenue Service suspect fiscal fraud? Lynnley Browning and Julia Werdigier (*******) files that "a federal judge cleared the way [...] for prosecutors to force {...} UBS to turn over the names of wealthy clients". Yet, could privacy concerns preempt national security, property rights and taxation with representation?

Pure blackmail, Halloween nightmares! For an escape route, read Paul H. Robinson's insightful comments on gun ownership rights (********). While non American readers may be baffled by American mores, the author reminds us that even in America the use of deadly force by ordinary citizens is illegal "if a less lethal means of defense is available" or if the threat is neither immediate nor vital. The existence of stun guns (2), nondeadly yet effective, should therefore make most firearms a thing of the past. Why not apply this disproportionate defense doctrine to privacy?

Coupled if necessary with tamper-resistant computing environments, ePrio's technology is to privacy protection what Tasers are to self-defense. If it can provide the required results without privacy violation, why not argue its availability renders compulsory rendition of confidential data illegal?

Eliminating the forest would of course expose the dominant tree to the full force of the winds of change.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ................... On Day Care, Google Makes A Rare Fumble, by Joe Nocera (New-York Times) - July 5, 2008
  • (**) ................ Ex-Banker Investigated In Transfers Of Money, by Lynnley Browning (New-York Times) - July 4, 2008
  • (***) .............. French Court Tells eBay To Pay for Counterfeits, by Doreen Carvajal (New-York Times) - July 1, 2008
  • (****) ............ Valuing Facebook, by Brad Stone (New-York Times) - July 4, 2008
  • (*****) .......... U.S. And Europe Near Agreement On Private Data, by Charlie Savage (New-York Times) - June 28, 2008
  • (******) ....... Google Told To Turn Over User Data on YouTube, by Miguel Helft (New-York Times) - July 4, 2008
  • (*******) ..... Judge Clears Request for UBS Clients' Names, by Lynnley Browning and Julia Werdigier (New-York Times) - July 2, 2008
  • (********) .. Shoot to Stun, by Paul H. Robinson (New-York Times) - July 2, 2008
  • (1) for the complete list, check "Google" in the Company Reference index for these fillips
  • (2) see for example Taser in the wikipedia
July 2008
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