Here’s a video that explores the internet data mining industry. It explains that much of your internet browsing can be tracked by scores or hundreds of anonymous internet entities which seek to create a “profile” of you by following and recording every site you visit.
The implication is that there is no privacy on the internet.
That’s no surprise, but seeing evidence of the lack of privacy is disturbing.
My guess is that there will be a privacy backlash in the next two years that’ll seek to cause laws to be passed to prevent private entities from following us on the internet. Government agencies, of course, will probably still be allowed to (secretly) monitor us. In fact, even if laws were passed to prevent government monitoring, I doubt that such monitoring could be truly stopped.
I have mixed feelings about the loss of internet privacy. On the one the hand, I regard that loss as inevitable; on the other hand, I am troubled; and on the third hand, I find most of the monitoring to be inconsequential.
I know it’s wrong, but it seems inevitable that “they” will follow my internet views. But, what difference does it make if, while “they” note every URL I visit, “they” are also noting every URL visited by every other American (and foreign) internet user? They’ll be generating a statistical haystack of data that may be commercially valuable to help businesses stop the “next big thing”–but not as useful as some might suppose for enabling government prosecutions or perhaps even persecutions.
In the end, my (and your) visits to internet sites are like voting. There is a kind of pure democracy implied in tracking everyone’s internet visits. By means of such tracking, we can discover whatever it is that the “body internet” wants or despises at any given moment. That’s not necessarily bad.
One question is: Who is entitled to access all the data? If we are all subject to being tracked without our consent, we should also all be entitled to view the statistical results. The “deal” should be that if I am subject to tracking without my consent, I should also have access to the results of that tracking–of me, and several billion others. They are selling records of my behavior to make a buck. Why shouldn’t I get a cut of the profits–or at least enjoy access to whatever data includes records of my behavior?
The problem with internet tracking is when gov-co uses the data to target a specific individual to discover and create a specific profile of that individual for the purpose of selective prosecution. The problem is magnified by the potential for gov-co sites that pretend to support a particular kind of behavior (homosexuality, kiddie porn, making bombs, following Obama’s movements) that are actually run by the gov-co to see who is interested in what kind of activity and therefore prone to commit some act that gov-co doesn’t like or can exploit as a kind of blackmail.
But even if government knows of all the “kinky” or anti-government websites I might visit, they’ll also ultimately know that I am a long ways from being isolated or unique in my attitudes. They’ll not only know that I don’t much like this damned government, they’ll know that there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of other Americans who share my attitudes.
Then what? Sure, the gov-co can deduce that I’m an enemy of the government, but they can probably deduce that at least 20 million other Americans–and maybe a whole lot more–are similarly inclined. ”They” might know from my internet profile that it would be great to toss that Adask-guy in the slammer. But they’d also know that, statistically, at least one third of any jury would likely be sympathetic to my attitudes and opinions. So, even though they might use all the “data mining” info to target me for selective prosecution, that same info might also tell “them” that they’d have little or no chance of persuading a jury to convict me of willful failure to kiss ass (government’s favorite charge).
More, imagine a worst case scenario where government used data mining of hundreds of millions of Americans to provide evidence to subject you or me to selective prosecution. That’s what we all secretly fear: “they” might secretly follow us on the internet to see how much time we spend on porn, bomb-making or sympathizing with the Tea Party and then use that secret info to prosecute us.
Assuming I were targeted for selective prosecution based on internet data mining, if I could access that data, I guarantee that I could find 10,000, maybe ten million, other Americans who were “more guilty” of whatever charges were alleged against me. My defense would be why are you prosecuting me rather than the ten million who are even more opposed to government? Isn’t the decision to prosecute me rather than the other ten million who are even worse, evidence of selective prosecution? Isn’t selective prosecution illegal? Shouldn’t the case against me be dropped based on selective prosecution?
The data base giveth and the data base taketh away. The data base that might expose my dissident tendencies on the internet is the same data base that might also defend me. OK, maybe the government’s data base has info showing that I visited some porn sites from time to time. But that same data base might also show that I’ve also visited some Christian religion sites, too. Thus, the resulting contradiction might have evidence that I’m guilty of hypocrisy, but if that’s a crime, who shouldn’t be jailed?
My point is that the data base can be used in your defense every bit as much as it can be used in your prosecution. The question is: Will you and I have access to that data base?
I don’t like the idea that gov-co is collecting info on me in some data base. But so long as I have access to that governmental data base–of even to some private data base of comparable authority–I’m not too worried. I willing to bet that I can use the data base in my defense every bit as well as gov-co can use it for my prosecution.
I suspect that in every society, no matter how primitive or sophisticated, there is a natural limit to how much information anyone (including gov-co) can apply. Let’s suppose I had access to data mining info that identified every woman who would sleep with me on the first date. I now know all 17,143,227 American women who will put out on the first date. So what? If I start calling each of them, how many will be busy, already on a date, outside mowing the lawn? If I started calling now, I’d be lucky to make contact in the next several hours with more than five. The sheer mass of the available data ultimately frustrates the original intent. Yes, I might have a list of 17 million promiscuous American women, but that list is probably available to 40 million other American men who are also looking for promiscuous women. In the end, despite having access to all that information, I doubt that the actual rate of promiscuity will increase much–and might even fall as we devote more and more time searching on the internet for the perfect partner. I suspect that most of us will be no more likely to “hook up” with the internet than we were without the internet (when we had to rely on phone numbers written on the stalls in men’s room: “For a good time, call Cathy at 972-555-2741″).
Similarly, the more information the government has, the more suspects is has to investigate. Investigations take time and money. Actual prosecutions cost even more time and money. Data mining info may be infinite, but gov-co’s capacity to prosecute remains limited. Just as I can’t decide which of the 17 million promiscuous women I want to date tonight, the government can’t easily decide which of the 20 million dissidents it wants to prosecute today.
For example, so far as I know, the IRS only files about 1,000 criminal charges per year. If the IRS used data mining to identify 20 million more non-filers subject to criminal prosecution, they’d still only have resources to prosecute about 1,000 criminal charges per year.
Point: Even though gov-co might collect billions of bits of data, it can still only act in a relative handful of cases. Knowing is one thing; doing is another. Knowledge in the internet age may be almost unlimited; but the actual doing in the internet age is not much more advanced than it was 50 years ago. How dangerous is information that, in general, can’t be applied? The government’s feared data base(s) are a little like revealing the nuclear launch codes to a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungle. Yes, the natives may have some top secret info, but what can they do with it?
I do not mean to imply that there’s nothing to worry about in our loss of internet privacy. Internet “tracking” is clearly a serious problem that’s virtually certain to invite some governmental abuse.
I’m merely saying that the problem might not be as big or threatening as some suppose. I’m suggesting that even though data mining is a potential problem, you should not allow yourselves to be so frightened by the technology’s potential that you curtail your internet activities to prevent “them” for developing your “profile”.
If you look at each URL you visit as a vote, the data mining software will produce an accurate rendering of how the nation is “voting” every day. You and I might not ever see the results, but some politicians will. If they find out that 5% of Americans are visiting a particular kind of blog or website, and if 5% is enough win a close election, the politicians will embrace the ideas and attitudes seen on that particular set of blogs and websites.
We are moving into a “brave new world,” but the worst thing you can do is be afraid of that world. I don’t suggest that you should love, desire or even tolerate that “brave new world”. I’m merely saying that you can’t let that “world” scare you into silence, inactivity or apathy. You can’t hide from these bastards, so don’t waste time trying. Stand up in public and be proud. Visit whatever URL’s light your fire, trust in the Good LORD, and tell the “watchers” to stuff it.
In the meantime, work to pass laws that make the data mining data available to all.