Monday Jun 18, 2007

Cookies and Privacy

By now, it should be commonly known that Google has bent its privacy policy to address concerns expressed by EU's Article 29 Data Protection Working Group.  Google will make data anonymous in its server logs after 18 months. According to Financial Times, and prior to the agreement, "Google cookies are set to expire after 30 years" (June 12, 2007). Google FAQs on privacy should probably give the current cookie lifetime. (In fact, it should ideally be possible for any user to examine the properties of Google cookie(s) on a known Google web page linked through its privacy FAQs.)

Sunday May 13, 2007

For the Anonymous Among You

Every once in a while I do get an anonymous commentator who leaves me a comment I cannot track or parse or understand because I cannot determine anything about its authorship or authority.

In one recent comment, one such "anonymous" graces the comments section of one of my entries with the following pleasantries:

Why is this kind of twisted-logic America-bashing on Sun's blog site? Does Sun Microsystems employ lots of people like you?

Totally confused about the authorship, its authority and its intent, I wrote the following response:

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous -

Thanks for catching my typo. It should have read "extension" not "extention" ... Yes, thanks for catching it, and it shows you had the patience to read the whole thing, and thanks for that, too!

Please note what I've said loud and clear on the top left corner of my weblog, in boldface: The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

So, postulating otherwise would not only be quite silly but unreasonable.

Let me address one other point in your comment, as immediately as I can.

If I did not love the community I live in, I wouldn't even bother writing this particular entry. There are far better things to do in life. So, I have no idea what you mean by "America-bashing." Perhaps, you should explain.

As far as the rest of your comment, you don't seem to have the simple courage to say what you're saying with your own real identity, whatever that might be. Hiding behind "anonymous" only makes what you say hollow and impossible to deal with because I have no idea what kind of authority you are and what moves you to say what you're saying.

So, I'm lost [as to] what to say.

Perhaps you're trying to perfect the art of anonymous intimidation.

At least I have the courage not to hide behind "anonymous" when I say what I think.

To say that the U.S. has exercised imperial power in the world should be quite a non-controversial matter.

To say that empires tend to over-extend themselves beyond their means also carries a great deal of scholarship and authority behind it.

If you believe it [to be] otherwise, please present your facts!

And again, in closing, I refer you to the top left corner of this blog:

The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

If you think that anyone who has a job with some company should not say anything [related] to current topics and politics, I refer you to Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture. For a relevant extract, I refer you to: "A Taboo Against Political Discourse."

As an aside, I think you might also want to consult any of the books by Zbigniew Brzezinski, where he examines the challenges to the empire from a strategic perspective. Searching for recent Zbignew Brzezinski interviews on YouTube might also produce interesting results. [I've also written about one of Brzezinski's recent comments here.]

Yours truly,
M.M.

P.S. I hope next time you write, you'll drop the "anonymous" so I may better be introduced to you and your ideas!

I do wish anonymous commentators find the courage and feel the need to say who they are, and to commit themselves to what it is they write. The least they can do is to use a consistent pen name or a consistent set of pen names and write enough tractable material (with each pen name) so that we know and can construct their position on topics of interest.

That sort of commitment is certainly missing in much of the web. See one of my earlier comments on a related topic at "Existential Phenomenology of The Internet."

There, I leave it, for now.

Friday Apr 27, 2007

Wireless and Privacy

April 26 edition of The Economist carries a 14-page insert on the evolving wireless revolution, focusing on wireless sensors and gadgets, their military and civilian applications. Presumably, connecting things without wires will bring greater communications and deployment efficiencies and versatility.

As machines talk to other machines, they may uncover facts and relationships that are not apparent to people. That may enable factories to “learn” and find ways to become more efficient. What happens on the factory floor will make its way, in a different form, to office buildings and homes. The next step is for wireless technology to enter human beings themselves.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote of an intelligent scaffoldings that a super mobile-and-wired network mesh can create infused with self-connecting wireless devices and drawing on a service-rich network infrastructure.

Some concers about this type of technology linger. Here's Economist's rendition of one of these concerns. 

A greater concern in the long term is privacy. Today's laws often assume that privacy is guaranteed by a pact between consumer and company, or citizen and state. In a world where many networks interconnect on the fly and information is widely shared, that will not work. At a minimum, wireless networks should let users know when they are being monitored.

Yes, privacy matters when a lot of in-formation is available about certain individuals while similar information about others is fully hidden. (In a real village, everyone knows similar things about everyone else, and any privacy stops at one's door, if there.)

When it comes to sensors, the question is how privacy-valuable is the information regarding a person's body temperature, place in the world and the acceleration by which they are moving. (Yes, this data can be used maliciously but I'm certainly willing to carry a SunSpot if that makes someone happy.)

This type of argument does not get into the heart of the matter. For example, this type of information can hardly reveal how willing I might be to go visit a friend, watch a particular movie or stay put. This type of information may, on the other hand,  give some useful clues to my doctors, for example, if I suffer from some malignant disease or if I'm a rare, endangered species of tiger. (Yes, all tigers are endangered these days.)

So, I think the privacy issue may be a bit exaggerated, and I think we have to be aware that in-formation about someone does not necessarily mean any real knowledge about that person.

Sunday Jan 28, 2007

Privacy and Data

Ellen Nakashima has been reporting on data and privacy for The Washington Post. See her reports on legal issues, delays and the EU scene.

As more data is collected by various web services, search engines, e-commerce web sites and portals, data and privacy questions continue to be debated.

If you are looking for a fresh perspective on data protection and privacy, you should also take a look at the weblog by Sun Microsystem's Chief Privacy Officer, Michelle Dennedy.

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