One of the largest network vendors in the world is planning to offer their ISP partners an opportunity to modify HTTP headers to get ISPs into the advertising racket. Juniper Networks, which sells routers to ISPs, is partnering with Feeva, an advertising solutions company, to modify data packets’ header information so that the packets will include geographic information. These modified packets will be transmitted to any and all websites that the customer visits, and will see individuals receive targeted advertisements according to their geographical location. Effectively, Juniper’s proposal may see ISPs leverage their existing customer service information to modify customers’ data traffic for the purposes of enhancing the geographic relevance of online advertising. This poses an extreme danger to citizens’ locational and communicative privacy.
Should ISPs adopt Juniper’s add-on, we will be witnessing yet another instance of repugnant ‘innovation’ that ISPs are regularly demonstrating in their efforts to enhance their revenue streams. We have already seen them forcibly redirect customers’ DNS requests to ad-laden pages, provide (ineffective) ‘anti-infringement’ software to shield citizens from threats posed by three-strikes laws, and alter the payload content of data packets for advertising. After touching the payload – and oftentimes being burned by regulators – it seems as though the header is the next point of the packet that is to be modified in the sole interest of the ISPs and to the detriment of customers’ privacy.
Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age (2009) is a powerful effort to rethink basic principles of computing that threaten humanity’s epistemological nature. In essence, he tries get impress upon us the importance of adding ‘forgetfulness’ to digital data collection process. The book is masterfully presented. It draws what are arguably correct theoretical conclusions (we need to get a lot better at deleting data to avoid significant normative, political, and social harms) while drawing absolutely devastatingly incorrect technological solutions (key: legislating ‘forgetting’ into all data formats and OSes). In what follows, I sketch the aim of the book, some highlights, and why the proposed technological solutions are dead wrong.
The book is concerned with digital systems defaulting to store data ad infinitum (barring ‘loss’ of data on account of shifting proprietary standards). The ‘demise of forgetting’ in the digital era is accompanied by significant consequences: positively, externalizing memory to digital systems preserves information for future generations and facilitates ease of recalls through search. Negatively, digital externalizations dramatically shift balances of power and obviate temporal distances. These latter points will become the focus of the text, with Mayer-Schonberger arguing that defaulting computer systems to either delete or degrade data over time can rebalance the challenges facing temporal obviations that presently accompany digitization processes. Continue reading
People use Google and Yahoo! throughout their daily lives – they need to know how to get from point a to b, need to find ecommerce sites, need to search friends’ blogs, need to learn how to cook fish, and have (generally) grown used to having the equivalent of electronic encyclopedias at their fingertips at all times. I’m not going to bother addressing concerns that this might be detrimentally affecting how people learn to retain information (i.e. as information is increasingly retained as search strings rather than as info-articles) but want to instead briefly consider how search intersects with privacy.
We hear about the need to protect our private information all of the time. ‘Shred your bank statements’, ‘be wary of online commerce sites’, ‘never share personal information on the ‘net’, and other proclamations of wisdom are uttered in print and video on a regular basis which are, in most cases, completely ignored. Proponents of the commercialization of privacy use this as definitive proof that citizens really don’t care about their privacy like they did in days gone past – people are willing to give up their names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information to receive services that they want. In light of this regulators should just butt out – the market has spoken!