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Entries from July 2009

Companies collect data on us --- so what?

It is very common among security people to take privacy issues seriously. When we hear that a particular service collects personal data on us, we get extremely anxious. We will not use services that collect personal data that are not necessary to render the service. Sometimes we will forgo using a useful service, just because it requires that we feed in personal data, or because we do not like the wording of the privacy policy, of its lack of…

To us, security people, having a company collect personal information on our shopping habits, surfing habits, reading habits, or eating habits, is just wrong. Technologists like
Cory Doctorow call to treat personal data like weapons-grade plutonium, because data that is collected never vanishes. Others, like Bruce Schneier, write essays on why the average (that is, non-criminal) citizen should not agree to being watched, although he did nothing wrong. All is true, and having governments collect too much data on individuals is risky. Such data, if available, is likely to be abused at some point in time, a point which is probably closer than it appears.

It is easy to explain why one would not like the government to have too much data on himself. I would like to discuss another type of data: the commercial data that privately held companies such as Amazon, Google (on Google apps users), and Facebook, collect. Why should I care about having my personal data on-line?

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