“For brands, following someone’s precise movements is key to understanding the “customer journey” — every step of the process from seeing an ad to buying a product. It’s the Holy Grail of advertising, one marketer said, the complete picture that connects all of our interests and online activity with our real-world actions.
Once they have the complete customer journey, companies know a lot about what we want, what we buy and what made us buy it. Other groups have begun to find ways to use it too. Political campaigns could analyze the interests and demographics of rally attendees and use that information to shape their messages to try to manipulate particular groups. Governments around the world could have a new tool to identify protestors.”-Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel, “Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy.” The New York Times. December 19, 2019.
What could possibly go wrong?
Facial recognition is just the tip of an iceberg. Techniques for identifying people by their walk, heartbeat, indoor movements, microbial cells, scent, and shape of their ass are all in the works or already possible.
“Today there are thousands of companies that track your activity and personal information. But there’s a huge disconnect between how our data is actually collected, sold, or shared, and what we may actually want. Disconnect is founded on the belief that privacy is a fundamental human right: that people should have the freedom to move about the internet – and their lives – without anyone looking over their shoulder.”
Mentioned in this Washington Post article: “It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?“
“Virtually all internet users tend to be Google search engine users, by default. The main strategy for Google is to try to hold on to the users it has by implementing better security and privacy protection measures. This is something definitely on their agenda, but the issue still remains that user data is tracked. Therefore, Google is leaking some users who are leaving its boat in order to climb aboard that of Duckduckgo.-Miriam Cihodariu, “Duckduckgo vs Google: A Security Comparison and How to Maximize Your Privacy.” Heimdal Security. May 16, 2019.
I left the Google boat two years ago. I have been consistently using Duckduckgo.com for a couple of years. It’s not as good as Google, but it is adequate for most searches you need to do. I typically only need to use Google if I am looking for answers to a difficult question, it requires Google maps functionality (such as looking for restaurants meeting certain criteria near a specific location), or I am looking for recent news on a specific topic. Duckduckgo.com has the ability to limit to news items, but the number of sources they have compared to Google is limited.
In short, Duckduckgo is a decent Google replacement, if you are willing to exchange a little functionality for a little more privacy. I think it is a worth doing.
“We audit their practices to ensure they are complying with industry codes of conduct,” said Bowden. “No Google data is used. This extensive audit process includes regular reporting, interviews, and evaluation to ensure vendors meet specified requirements around consent, opt-out, and privacy protections.”
—Ava Kofman, “Google’s Sidewalk Labs Plans to Package and Sell Location Data on Millions of Cellphones.” The Intercept. January 28, 2019.
As these ideas go, this is a good use of the kind of data phones are collecting. For urban planning, it’s great to be able to look at real time road, sidewalk, public transit, building, park and other infrastructure usage.
But, it always starts with good ideas and then, the incentives encourage implementations and extensions that are a net negative, such as using real time location data and artificial intelligence to look for anomalous movement patterns for policing. That’s only the tip of the iceberg of ways this information, packaged in aggregate, could go horribly wrong.
Also, no Google data is being used? Even if true, the key word missing is “…yet.” They are seeing how it is received first, putting it on telephone service providers, before they add in Google data. A Google service of this type will eventually use Google data.
This interview with Helen Nissanbaum on privacy as a social good and how managing dataflows is a better way to think about it than consent is worth a read. These ideas are explored in greater detail in her book, Privacy in Context.
h/t Schneier on Security.