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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

OrkutGuy???

Logging into Orkut today (a decreasingly common occurrence for me), I noticed one of those bulletins you sometimes get when you log into a web service. It was being announced by a friendly cartoon chap named "OrkutGuy."

Well, maybe not so friendly. Doesn't anyone else find it a little odd that in the midst of growing attention to Google's privacy policies and the evident possibility that one's behavior (to say nothing of one's social connections) could be logged and watched, that the "OrkutGuy" character is a policeman in uniform?

Now granted, he looks like a rather casually-dressed copper along the lines of a traffic cop; he doesn't carry a gun or any type of weapon. And maybe the Orkut engineer meant to cut and paste the next image over in their clipart file, the one of a benevolent-looking, drunk court jester, or the one next to that, a Joan Collins impersonator. But hmmmmm, anyway.

I'm just fresh from reading over this excerpt from the "When We May Disclose Your Personal Information" section of the Gmail Privacy Policy:

"...we do not disclose your personally identifying information to third parties unless we believe we are required to do so by law or have a good faith belief that such access, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (b) enforce the Gmail Terms of Use, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), (d) respond to user support requests, or (e) protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users and the public."

Whew! Well, at least they're being up front about who's really in charge here.

Do you sometimes have a sneaking suspicion you're being watched? Based on what we know about search technology, and the easy accessibility of your data to anyone who might want to sift through it, it's far from a crazy notion. Companies like H5 Technologies are busily sifting through mountains of corporate and governmental data and analyzing it for meaning. Not too long ago, H5 overtly mentioned some of its defence contracts on the website. They're a little quieter about this now. (Prior to May 11, 2001, H5 was ejemoni, a startup led by university scientists.)

Google, one presumes, could do the type same thing, only a lot better, faster, and smarter, with more personal data to peruse from the general population. I'm not suggesting that Google wishes to invade any user's privacy, and I'm taking the founders' well-known anti-evil and pacifist stances at face value. But it's plain that they have the wherewithal to sift and sort personal info more effectively than just about anyone, and over time, may have little choice in the matter in the face of pressure from law enforcement agencies. And no one with a shred of common sense needs advocates from the so-called, oxymoronical "privacy community" to explain that to us.

Am I on the right track, OrkutGuy? Or did you really mean to paste in the next image over, the one of a Joan Collins lookalike? Wearing a fake fur, of course.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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