Virtually every single time I’ve mentioned online privacy related concerns to anyone—even computer engineers—the reaction I get is similar: a shrug, followed by comments like: “yeah right, like that’s ever going to be a problem…”.
I don’t think this is because people stopped valuing their privacy. Rather, most people don’t seem to realize the extent of the lack of privacy they experiment when going online. This is hardly surprising: after all, in the comfort (and privacy!) of your homes, using a computer is not an experience likely to be perceived as privacy threatening—in fact, it may well happen the opposite, because you’re not interacting with actual people, but sitting comfortably behind a screen. This must be the reason, I’m led to surmise, why so many people on Facebook will happily provide their personal details—i.e. accept an invitation to befriend—pretty much anyone else, including a green plastic frog. The meagre and dwindling online privacy we have now is perceived to be higher than that which we enjoy in our “away from keyboard” lives.
But it gets better—or rather, worse—than that. How? When the bulk of your online activities, be those web browsing, email, calender schedule, and even DNS queries(!) are all done by the same corporation, viz. Google. And I know that for instance in the case of Google Public DNS, they state that “In the permanent logs, we don’t keep personally identifiable information or IP information.”. But if they wanted to do that (say, they got a subpoena from law enforcement), they could do that. That’s a fact. And history shows us, time and time again, that whenever power can be abused, it will be abused. But it gets even worse.
How? Well, everything I mentioned so far about Google, are all potential problems. Right? Well, that potential came a lot closer to reality when Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, uttered these words:
If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place
Now think for a second: it’s Google’s CEO who said that! If that does not wake us up against the danger of anything remotely resembling online privacy disappearing into oblivion, then I don’t know what will.
Oh by the way, a couple of years ago, some folks over CNET did this little experiment: they used the Google search engine to search about Schmidt himself; the results of said search having pissed the hell out of him. By his own twisted logic, he was doing a lot of things he shouldn’t be doing…
So what is the average computer user suppose to make out of this? The interview in The Register, where the quote comes from, ends like this:
CNBC asks Schmidt: “People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?” But he answers by scoffing at those who don’t trust Google at all.
Not that you’d expect anything less. As always, Schmidt’s holier-than-thou attitude is wonderfully amusing. Except that it’s not.
The way I see it, he’s acting a whole lot like a drug dealer: he knows better than to use the stuff he sells. Continuing with the analogy for a little bit, when CNET forced his own drug onto him, he exacted revenge on them. But what are those of us that don’t head a multi billion dollar company supposed to do, when that same drug is so overwhelmingly forced upon us? That is a question still left open.