Google and the privacy Richter scale | Opinions | ChannelWorld.in

PARTNER HOTLINES

Google and the privacy Richter scale

By Jay Cline, Computerworld on Mar 07, 2012
Jay Cline About the author

Jay Cline, Computerworld

Jay Cline is president of Minnesota Privacy Consultants . You can reach him at cwprivacy@computerworld.com

Last week, Google followed through on its plan to consolidate its 60 privacy policies into a single approach. Some privacy advocates and regulators are worried that Google will now be able to know and track people like never before. But on the scale of all the bad things that could happen to our privacy, where does Google's change in approach rank? Have we crossed a Rubicon toward the obliteration of personal privacy, or is a new day dawning for more control over our personal data?

There really isn't any universally accepted way to answer this question.

On one extreme are people who tend to see any increase in data collection, sharing and exposure as a long slide down the slippery slope toward losing our liberty. On the other extreme are people who love the benefits of new technologies enough that they disregard any privacy concern as a non-issue.

The truth has to be somewhere in between. Not all privacy issues are created equal. Some rank only a 1 on the privacy Richter scale -- an unnoticeable tremor that does no damage -- while others rank an unqualified 10 that merit a widespread emergency response. Knowing the difference can help you sort through all the hype and know which privacy news to pay attention to.

What would a privacy Richter scale look like? See if these criteria make sense for you.

Privacy Richter readings 1 to 3

Earthquakes measuring on the lower end of the Richter scale are detected but hardly felt. What is the equivalent for a privacy tremor? These would be privacy events that make the news but pose no lasting harm to individuals or society as a whole.

You've probably experienced some or many of these privacy tremors -- receiving someone else's mail, having someone expose something embarrassing about you to co-workers or friends, or losing your wallet or purse. A privacy Richter 1 or 2 event is a temporary bad turn for you or a handful of people, but nothing systemic.

At the upper end of this category, you might see incidents affecting millions of people but in a minor way. I'd rank the controversies over online-behavioral advertising, consumer tracking and customer data analytics at this level -- a privacy Richter 3. A lot of data is being collected, but it's being used to sell people stuff. They don't have to buy the stuff, and they might actually like the stuff, so it's not clear what harm has been caused or where liberty or dignity has been irreparably lost.

Privacy Richter readings 4 to 7

Earthquakes measuring 4 to 7 on the Richter scale can knock you down, level buildings and cause real and lasting damage. Privacy events in this range should be taken seriously.

Two recent incidents on the lower end of this range would include the Epsilon breach of its customer email addresses and Apple 's storage of the iPhone location-tracking file on users' Macs. The Epsilon breach put people at heightened risk of "spear phishing," where thieves target email addressees at a single company for social engineering purposes. The Apple incident put people at risk if their Macs were lost or stolen and recovered by someone intent on exploiting the knowledge contained in the machine about their daily patterns. These are real risks to a lot of people.

Stolen laptops containing thousands of Social Security numbers and credit-card numbers would also fall in this range. Identity thieves could use this information to make fraudulent transactions that could impact credit scores for years. I'd put the large TJX, Heartland and Sony breaches of millions of credit-card numbers in this category, too, because the total financial damage was extensive, topping $1 billion by some estimates. I wouldn't put these breaches in the top category, however, because the financial damage was ultimately contained and society as a whole was not changed in a lasting way.

Privacy Richter readings 8 to 10

Earthquakes topping 8 on the Richter scale make the all-time list and usually involve widespread destruction and loss of life. Privacy events making this short list would similarly be points of no return for large numbers of people and society as a whole.

DARPA's Total Information Awareness program, proposed in 2002 and defunded by Congress in 2003, could have topped the scale. The massive collection of data about U.S. citizens could have created a perpetual bureaucracy that put at risk our right of due process and protection against unlawful search and seizure. The promulgation of a national ID card could similarly have irreversible and negative effects. The current trend to deploy more and more of TSA's "naked image" machines, even at places outside of airports, could also rank this high because these machines treat people like cattle and reduce their human dignity.

If a corporation such as Google attained as much power as a government agency or exerted unrivaled influence over society, its privacy problems could also rank this high. The data inaccuracies of U.S. credit-reporting agencies in the 1960s -- which led to errant denials of credit and ultimately to the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act -- would be a candidate for a privacy Richter 8 rating.

So how serious is the Google policy change? By the sound of the running commentary, this is the worst thing for privacy that's happened so far this year.

The French privacy regulator, the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des liberts (CNIL), issued a critical statement this week. The CNIL claimed that "trained privacy professionals" could not deduce from the new consolidated privacy policy exactly what Google would now be doing with users' data.

For their part, 37 U.S. state attorneys general sent Google CEO Larry Page a sharp letter last week. (I don't think they Gmailed it.) They listed several problems they had with the policy change, which they say amounts to an "invasion of privacy." Their overall concern was that Google consumers such as Android phone users and government agency customers of Google Docs have no real choice to opt out of the change.

A related class-action lawsuit alleges that Google has violated the Wiretap Act, has been unjustly enriched and has intruded upon the seclusion of the users.

This is a lot of heat. I can't remember a privacy policy change that generated this much controversy.

What's the worst-case scenario here? Google amasses a detailed profile about each one of us who continues to use its mostly free products. It uses that information to deliver strangely relevant ads to us. Potentially, that information later on gets breached, sold or subpoenaed by the federal government.

When I look at the privacy Richter scale, the current change ranks at a 3. Larry Page's company will weather this change. I don't see irreparable or lasting harm or loss of liberty. If you don't like Google, use Bing. Don't watch weird things on YouTube. You shouldn't be sending confidential things through Gmail in the first place. You knew Google was the big data hound when you bought your Android phone. So get an iPhone. And be thankful Google is not a North Korean company. It actually does not share everything with the government.

A 3 ranking doesn't mean this isn't an important development. An external disclosure of Google's growing farm of data could easily make the second tier of the privacy Richter scale. Google now has a growing accountability to keep its data controlled within its own enterprise and to resist governmental intrusion into that data.

So the next time you see privacy in the headlines, ask these questions: Who is harmed? Is liberty or dignity reduced? And see where it measures up on the privacy Richter scale.

Latest Opinions

  • The anti-Beatitudes: Calling Apple a religion

    Put on your special underwear and get ready to cut a goat! No, not because our Apple religion calls us to those practices but because arguing Apple is a religion just drives a Macalope do some crazy stuff.

    The Macalope
  • Cameramakers missed the Wi-Fi bandwagon on the road to obsolescence

    The day of the standalone digital camera has passed for all but professional photographers and those who aren't paid for their work but have particular needs a phone's built-in camera can't meet. Smartphones won by making photos easy to share online.

    Glenn Fleishman
  • When it comes to Apple products, how thin is too thin?

    One of the characters in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash uses knives with edges a single atom thick, so sharp they can cut through anything. I think about those knives every time Apple announced a newer, thinner MacBook or iPad or iPhone.

    Jason Snell
  • Yahoo: One Giant Step—Sideways?

    Authentication is the biggest issue that enterprises have to face in a connected world because all systems have flaws.

    Balaji Narasimhan
  • Weird science: The Apple Watch may already be killing you!

    You should see the Macalope's biceps right now. He's totally ripped from all the tables he had to flip because of this piece in the New York Times by Nick Bilton.

    The Macalope
EDITOR'S PICK

Try These 5 Undiscovered Google Drive Tricks

Google Drive and its attendant apps offer a wealth of tools to help you be more productive. Try these five for the biggest boost.

What Does the Collaborative Economy Mean for Information Security?

Most employers allow their staff reasonable use of office products such as telephones, copy machines, coffee and the like. For the most part, employees won't be using the copy machines to compete with Kinko's or a company car to compete with black car limousine services. Well, at least not until now.

Tech Chat

Collaborating To Outcome Based World: Priyadarshi Mohapatra, Avaya

Priyadarshi Mohapatra, Managing Director, India and SAARC, Avaya, on how IT is transitioning from a keep-the-lights-on role to one that enables customers to deliver results.

The Dawn of the Digital Age: Akhilesh Tuteja, KPMG

The development of digital infrastructure will be a key growth driver for technology and solution providers. 

Paradigm Shift from End-Users to User-First : Parag Arora,Citrix

Parag Arora, Area Vice President and India Head, India Sub-continent, Citrix, says new technologies will force organizations to take a user-first approach in 2015.

Mobile and Cloud Are Gamechangers of the Future: Karan Bajwa, Microsoft

Karan Bajwa, Managing Director, Microsoft India, says, in  2015, organizations will adopt a mobile-first and cloud-first strategy to get ahead of competition.

A Network for the Internet of Everything : Dinesh Malkani,Cisco

Dinesh Malkani, President, India and SAARC, Cisco, talks about IoT and the significant technology transitions in the networking world.

Moving to the Third Platform: Jaideep Mehta, IDC

Cloud and mobility are the two technologies that will fuel the rapid adoption of the third platform in India.

Envisaging a Holistic Security Strategy For 2015: Sanjay Rohatgi,Symantec

Sanjay Rohatgi, President–Sales, Symantec India, says the company has a set of holistic solutions in place to secure organizations from security threats. 

Beating the Bad Guys: Sivarama Krishnan, PwC

Organizations will need to turn inwards to establish robust information security strategies.

Building Capabilities for a Digital Tomorrow: Alok Ohrie,Dell

Alok Ohrie, President and Managing Director, Dell India, on the company’s investments to build end-to-end solutions and delivery capabilities for a digital world.

SLIDESHOWS

CEO Comebacks: For Better or for Worse?

We bring to you six global CEOs who made the idea work, or not.

Datacenters in the Weirdest Places

A peek into some of the most unusual datacenter locations in the world. Here are 13 datacenters that are built in unusual locations like mines, ships, trucks and even a nuclear collidor. Taking about common wisdom, eh?

12 LinkedIn Mistakes IT Pros Make

LinkedIn is the go-to place for IT pros to market themselves, connect with co-workers, find former colleagues, and meet-up with like-minded folks. Take a few minutes now to make sure your profile showcases your accomplishments, and skills. Here are some common mistakes to avoid.

ChannelWorld Survey: State of the Market 2014

Partners poll their sentiments, expectations, pain points, and challenges for the coming year.

6 Leaders Who Headed for an Abrupt Exit

The abrupt exit of top leaders of Indian and global tech companies this year, with many of them citing ambiguous reasons, surprised the technology world.

FAST TRACK

Kamtron Systems

Transitioning towards a service-oriented company will boost our growth, believes Kavita Singhal, director, Kamtron Systems.

TIM Infratech

Delivering ‘best of breed’ technologies to enterprises is key to success, says Monish Chhabria, MD, TIM Infratech

Mudra Electronics

A vendor-agnostic strategy helped us sustain business, says Bharat Shetty, CMD, Mudra Electronics.

Systematix Technologies

Our USP is a customer-friendly approach backed by services, says Akhilesh Khandelwal, Director, Systematix Technologies.

CorporateServe Solutions

Our ability to turnaround complex ERP projects in record time is what gets us customer referral, says Vinay Vohra, Founder & CEO, CorporateServe Solutions.

KernelSphere Technologies

We are emerging as an end-to-end systems integrator, says Vinod Kumar, MD, KernelSphere Technologies.

Uniware Systems

We constantly validate emerging technologies for first-mover advantage, says Vergis K.R., CEO, Uniware Systems.

Astek Networking & Solutions

An innovative approach helps us stay successful, says Ashish Agarwal, CEO, Astek Networking & Solutions.

CSM Technologies

Our approach is backed by innovation and simplicity, says Priyadarshi Nanu Pany, CEO, CSM Technologies.

EMC PARTNER SHOWCASE

Partnering for Profitability

Atul H. Gosar, Director, Network Techlab, shares how the company’s association with EMC has provided it with a competitive edge and a wide customer base, leading to increased profitability.

Sponsored Content

Promising Pipeline

Venkat Murthy, Prime Mover, 22by7 Solutions, shares how EMC brings in competitive edge by enabling technology, GTM and lead generation, helping 22by7 acquire new customers and retain old ones.

Sponsored Content

Powerful Performance

Deepak Jadhav, Director, VDA Infosolutions, says initiatives by EMC around training and certification have helped the company’s staff improve its performance and enhance customer experience.

Sponsored Content

Performance Booster

Rajiv Kumar, CEO, Proactive Data Systems, says that the solution provider’s association with EMC has helped expand its customer base and added value to existing offerings.

Sponsored Content

Pursuit of Profitability

Santosh Agrawal, CEO, Esconet Technologies, shares insights on how the systems integrator’s association with EMC has spelled sustained success over the years.

Sponsored Content

Non-Performance is Not an Option

Nitin Aggarwal, Director, Trifin Technologies, shares insights on how the association with EMC has helped the system integrator stand out and empowered its personnel to deliver consistent performance.

Sponsored Content

SOCIAL MEDIA @ CW India
SIGNUP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Signup for our newsletter and get regular updates.