Friday, January 20, 2006

Hello World

Hi. Welcome to my blog.

(Let me say right away that my future posts will not be this long. This is just the first one where I explain my point of view in general. My future posts will consist of a link to article, an excerpt, and a very short explanation of why I think the people who wrote the article are paranoid idi.. I mean, should not worry about privacy as much as they do).

(Let me also say that if you disagree with any of what I say, please post a comment or send me an email explaining why. I am open-minded and realize I don't know everything, so this blog could be a good learning experience, and ought to be a good place for debate).

My name is Bernardo Malfitano. All the information you could possibly want about me is here. But here are some tidbits that may be useful in this blog: I am Brazilian, but I went to middle-school in the US, and liked the US enough that I came back for college and have not left since (I will become a US citizen in a few months). Right after graduating, I worked for Google for almost a year. I just quit my job at Google so that I could move to LA and look for an aerospace job, which is what I really want to work on.

This blog is primarily a reaction to:

- People who are worried or upset when they discover that there is information about them on the web;

- People who feel uncomfortable having their shopping habits or web-browsing habits tracked by companies who simply lump all that data into huge statistics in an non-personally-identifiable way.

- People who feel uncomfortable having their shopping habits or web-browsing habits tracked by companies who use this information to provide better services, often with no human intervention (i.e. only computers look at this data).

- People who feel they have the right to go online, shop (online or in a store), and use any service on the internet (searching, posting comments, blogging, emailing, having a site), anonymously.

- - - -

My point of view, which applies to all these cases and more, is the following:

When you interact with someone - be it a website (online store, search engine, email, blog, host/server, ISP), a company (a store, your employer, your phone company, your airline, a company you contacted just to ask a question or make a comment), or a person (someone you have a conversation with, someone who sees you walking down the street) - the information describing this interaction belongs jointly to you and to the other entity/website/person/company.

In other words, the information describing this interaction (which allows the other entity to know some things about you) is like a "thing", a piece of property with certain rights of use and ownership. These rights have to be defined in a contract between you and the other entity. The other entity has the right to define this contract however they want. You have the right to not interact with the other entity, if you do not like the terms of this contract over the co-ownership of your information.

In other words, you do not have an inalienable right to give no one any information. You just have a right to not interact with entities who (you feel) take too much information and/or use it in ways you don't like. You also have a right to complain and say "I do not wish for you to require this information, or to use that information in such and such a way", but the other entity may choose to ignore this request and to stand by their terms (you can always walk away).

If these rights of ownership are not defined by the other entity, then you may not just assume them to be what you wish they were. What I mean is: Read the Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy! In some cases (like meeting with a doctor or a lawyer, or writing email), you can be certain that the information regarding this interaction is fairly well protected, and should be. But in any other circumstances, people need to realize that their information may be required, and may be used in any way the other entity finds appropriate. People should not be surprised when this happens. And people should not mind it too much either.

What many people consider to be "private information" is much more public than they realize. Often, it BECAME public through carelessness on the part of the "owner": They interacted with some entity and assumed their information would not be shared. You know what they say about "When you assume..."

People then realize that all kinds of information about them are all over the place, and begin carefully guarding their information to unreasonable levels.

Then, software that records/emits information about your computing/shopping/browsing/searching habits is frowned upon and extensively bashed in BoingBoing and Slashdot and such places. People start liking the more anonymous ways to interact on the internet, and then when these ways are restricted, people become furious and think they have a right to do things anonymously.

Why do you think you have the right to post on blogs anonymously, to go online anonymously, to search anonymously, to shop anonymously? Do you also have the right to use a car, a phone, an airplane, or a hotel room anonymously? All these things involve interactions with other entities. These other entities may decide that they will only allow you to do these things if you agree to not be anonymous.

And why worry about this? Only the guilty have anything to fear. From whom are you hiding? Who cares if these acts are attributed to you? If you did them for innocent or legitimate reasons, then you should not be worried.

Most of all, many of the people with this kind of paranoia are stupid enough to fall for phishing scams, to not shred their financial documents before throwing them in the dumpster, etc.

- - - -

There are two things that motivated me to write this blog:

1) I worked at Google until very recently. I did user support, among other things. This means I got to deal with a lot of people whose orkut accounts were phished (and they think their account was "hacked into" because of "failures in our security system". Idiots). I also got to deal with lots of people who were upset to be in our reverse-lookup phone directory (even though they appeared to not mind having their name, address, and phone number in a book delivered to every house in town) or upset to have information about them on the web (usually in websites belonging to their friends, their churches, the government, or sites like personals and blogs where they entered the info themselves). I got more frustrated with these people each day. I hope it did not show when I wrote them back.

2) All the time - even after I quit my Google job - I read articles on Slashdot and BoingBoing about how evil some program/company is because they take/share user information, thus violating their customers' "privacy".

- - - -

In this blog, I will mention these kinds of articles whenever I see them (which is a couple times a week, roughly) and, well, disagree with them. I invite my readers to disagree with me. Hopefully, we can get some good debate going. If someone posts a comment or sends me an email that is insightful enough, I might even dedicate a post to it. Unless the author objects, of course. (Yes, I realize email IS, and SHOULD be, private).

Whew, I think that's all for now. Again, please feel free to post comments or send me emails if you agree with me, disagree with me, or see something on the internet you think I ought to check out.

Thanks for reading! And Welcome!


PS: I tend to be a patient, open-minded person who really spends a lot of effort into understanding another person's point of view. In many blogs such as God Vs No God, you will see me trying to understand what assumptions and basic values might cause my "opponent" to come to a different conclusion from mine about what is good and what is bad. I tend to dislike blogs where the opposing point of view is cynically made fun of, where the author does not even recognize that the other side might have a point. However, I am so frustrated and annoyed at people's unrealistic and not-well-thought-out privacy paranoia (and computer illiteracy in general), than in this blog I'm just going to let it all out and call them "idiots" and whatnot. I swear I will only do this on the posts themselves, not in the comments. In the comments I will behave like my usual, civil, open-minded, polite, empathetic self. But I don't ever get a chance to write in the inflamatory, confrontational, disrespectful, intolerant, uncaring, narrow-minded tone used by so many vocal people (mostly conservatives, but other groups too), so please allow me to indulge myself here and exercise those muscles just a little bit. Thanks, and sorry if I offend anyone. I swear I'm pretty nice in person.


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