08 August 2005

Sauce for the Googl-oose is Sauce for the Googl-ander; Institutional Telepathy in a GoogleWorld

The New York Times reports (registration required, or use BugMeNot) that Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, Inc., is rather upset with C|Net News for a story they ran recently that disclosed all sorts of Schmidt's personal information obtained by Googling "Eric Schmidt". In addition to web pages that explicitly "reveal" information on Schmidt's wealth, wife, and wanderings, the article points out that Google has ready access to information that is not so explicitly displayed: the workings of our minds.
Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Google is amassing data that could create some of the most detailed individual profiles ever devised. "Your search history shows your associations, beliefs, perhaps your medical problems. The things you Google for define you," Bankston said.

As is typical for search engines, Google retains log files that record search terms used, Web sites visited and the Internet Protocol address and browser type of the computer for every single search conducted through its Web site. In addition, search engines are collecting personally identifiable information in order to offer certain services. For instance, Gmail asks for name and e-mail address. By comparison, Yahoo's registration also asks for address, phone number, birth date, gender and occupation and may ask for home address and Social Security number for financial services.

If search history, e-mail and registration information were combined, a company could see intimate details about a person's health, sex life, religion, financial status and buying preferences. It's "data that's practically a printout of what's going on in your brain: What you are thinking of buying, who you talk to, what you talk about," Bankston said. "It is an unprecedented amount of personal information, and these third parties (such as Google) have carte blanche control over that information."
This is an aspect of the reversal of publicy, on which I have written on my former blog, that I describe like this:
Blogs are an instance of "publicy" - the McLuhan reversal of "privacy" - that occurs under the intense acceleration of instantaneous communications. Our notion of privacy was created as an artifact of literacy - silent reading lead to private interpretation of ideas that lead to private thoughts that lead to privacy. Blogging is an "outering" of the private mind in a public way (that in turn leads to the multi-way participation that is again characteristic of multi-way instanteous communictions.) Unlike normal conversation that is essentially private but interactive, and unlike broadcast that is inherently not interactive but public, blogging is interactive, public and, of course, networked - that is to say, interconnected.

There are many other aspects to, and instances of, publicy besides blogging, of course. But blogging is perhaps the most vivid example of publicy of mind that represents the outering of stream of consciousness or inner dialogue.
The outering of that which was formerly private, but now becomes public under our control is the extension/enhancement; the outering not under out control is the reversal that, in turn, enables a form of institutional telepathy. It is obviously clear that there would be great interest among those who are charged with securing the homeland (as it were) with such telepathic ability. It has been a key theme among almost every citizen surveillance project endorsed by the U.S. intelligence, and advanced defense research communities - how can those in authority know the minds of any arbitrary person, on demand?

While there has been outrage at proposed projects like Total Information Awareness, and the unauthorized use of commercial data for CAPPS II, the generally tacit fact that Google has far exceeded both of these initiatives in creating institutional telepathy has gone largely unnoticed.

Or, to put it another way, my blog is my conscious mind of publicy; my Google trace is my unconscious mind of publicy.

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