The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Thrive.” –
Google recently announced that it would start including individual users’ names and photos in some ads. This means that if you rate some product positively, your friends may see ads for that product with your name and photo attached — without your knowledge or consent. Meanwhile, Facebook is eliminating a feature that allowed people to retain some portions of their anonymity on its website.
These changes come on the heels of Google’s move to explore replacing tracking cookies with something that users have even less control over. Microsoft is doing something similar by developing its own tracking technology.
More generally, lots of companies are evading the “Do Not Track” rules, meant to give users a say in whether companies track them. Turns out the whole “Do Not Track” legislation has been a sham.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that big technology companies are tracking us on the Internet even more aggressively than before.
If these features don’t sound particularly beneficial to you, it’s because you’re not the customer of any of these companies. You’re the product, and you’re being improved for their actual customers: their advertisers.
This is nothing new. For years, these sites and others have systematically improved their “product” by reducing user privacy. …
The “Do Not Track” law serves as a sterling example of how bad things are. When it was proposed, it was supposed to give users the right to demand that Internet companies not track them. Internet companies fought hard against the law, and when it was passed, they fought to ensure that it didn’t have any benefit to users. Right now, complying is entirely voluntary, meaning that no Internet company has to follow the law. If a company does, because it wants the PR benefit of seeming to take user privacy seriously, it can still track its users.
Really: if you tell a “Do Not Track”-enabled company that you don’t want to be tracked, it will stop showing you personalized ads. But your activity will be tracked — and your personal information collected, sold and used — just like everyone else’s. It’s best to think of it as a “track me in secret” law.
Of course, people don’t think of it that way. Most people aren’t fully aware of how much of their data is collected by these sites. And, as the “Do Not Track” story illustrates, Internet companies are doing their best to keep it that way.
The result is a world where our most intimate personal details are collected and stored. I used to say that Google has a more intimate picture of what I’m thinking of than my wife does. But that’s not far enough: Google has a more intimate picture than I do. The company knows exactly what I am thinking about, how much I am thinking about it, and when I stop thinking about it: all from my Google searches. And it remembers all of that forever. …