Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The loss of Personal Identity due to the Internet

The recent Webmail privacy scare has made me think a little deeply about my "electronic profile."
[OK, the thinking fried my brain cells, but thanks to evolution, I have new ones.]

1. Many of us are taking broadband internet connections which come with static IPs

2. All of us swear by Google Search and many of us have become greedy in accepting GMail as our primary mail source.

3. All our records are now online, thanks to government computerization (that looks like an oxymoron to me).

4. We create our profile on discussion forums, IMs and other websites. Most of them are registered using the primary email addresses.

5. We never even think of communicating by post. Email is our life.

6. Blogging and Wikiing are our major activities every day.

So many more ways exist where we bring our life online. Even basic investigation would reveal gigabytes of information about you. As Brad Templeton puts it brilliantly, "we are building a surveillance society" [see http://www.templetons.com/brad/gmail.html].

For example, Google keeps all data about the searches we conduct[http://battellemedia.com/archives/002272.php]. Coupled with static IPs, GMail and personalization, Google can build a complete profile of what we do using all its tools by using our IP as the key. On the same lines, webmail providers scan our emails looking for keywords to put in ads. Coupled with the fact that we rarely delete emails [thanks to "2 GB and counting"], we are laying our entire life open for anybody out to see!

To be fair, it is not only email that causes so much information about us to be available to people who want [ The Fuss About Gmail and Privacy: Nine Reasons Why It's Bogus -http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/4707]. Although it is titled GMail, it is true for most webmail providers.

Let me clarify, I am not out to crucify Google or any other provider [I am using blogspot to write this, remember], but only give an example of the kind of information that can be gathered about us. Already, employers trawl the Internet for details on their potential employees [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/us/11recruit.html?_r=1&oref=slogin]. What I wrote in an unhappy mood 10 years back can be used against me!

In short, someone can build a comprehensive profile about you in a matter of days, notions you have outgrown may be used against you.

I am thinking of using email encryption [but how do I get my readers to use the software necessary to decrypt my emails?], proxy anonymizers, cookie-less browsers and other privacy software, but is it enough? I don't think so.

5 Comments:

Blogger usg said...

ahh..a point is made..nice search you have done you know..but what must be kept in mind is that service providers like google or msn or dogpile have a reputation to live upto and enhance ..they cannot afford even a single defamation law suit..which frankly is not a big deal in the US of A where these are established..so i dont think we need to worry about too much....gud post ..

June 14, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger PK said...

Nice post but rather late.I do not have Gmail account cause I did not feel comfertable allowing google to profile me by going through my mail and using it in future.Now US govt. wants all the ISP to keep records for almost 1o yrs which they can access.In few yrs all the Govts. under the pretext of Security will have access to everything one does on net.Well Big Brother is watching and be careful what you write and what sites you visit.---PK

June 15, 2006 12:30 AM  
Blogger megha said...

Hello!!!

Long time no post ur end??

August 04, 2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger jitesh said...

You are very right. But as I see google till now has behaved very responsibly.There are minimum spams. Yes there are Google ads which are based on type of mails one get but i din't find it that irritating.. may be I'm too small for anybody to take pain researching my profile..But ya a big corporate hot shot may be uncomfortable with it..
b/w I found your post intriguing..and like others I am also waiting some more stuff from you :)

August 13, 2006 5:44 PM  
Blogger Nemo nullis said...

There is nothing new in all this. All that information, and more has been available to anyone who cared to look for over a century. All thathas changed is that what we put onto the computer system can now be easily found by a computer serach and not asking individuals. Much of the data won't be used becasue there is simply too much.

You are wrong to trust these companies, the moment they can get a financial advantage they will sell the information. Phone companies have been doing that since the first phone book.

The answer is simple, the internt and everything stored on it is public domain, don't put anything there unless you want it known. Don't use webmail for personal stuff, use an ISP mail address, that way it's not stored out there.

August 17, 2006 4:51 PM  

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