Is a Right to be Forgotten Enough?

Slashdot links to a PC Pro article discussing a move by the commission to give more power to consumers. What amounts to a plan for new legislation next year may be a mixed blessing. Users would gain more control over their data, including the right to have it deleted, while at the same time decreasing friction for the flow of personal data through the markets. The latter would seem to increase pressure on advertisers to acquired the necessary informed consent and raise barriers to executing deletion, or forgetting, requests.

There is no mention of accountability or enforceability, aspects of the plan that will have to be addressed for it to have a hope of making a difference. Sadly, I think the inclusion of a right to be forgotten implies that the balance will still tilt towards too much collection.

EU Commission Says People Have a ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Online, Slashdot

Following Up for the Week Ending 10/31/2010

feeds | grep links > Autonomous Vans Follow Marco Polo, Pushing Limits of Chip Making Further, Facebook’s New Friend Stalker Tool, and More

  • Vans drive themselves across the world
    Slashdot links to a Techeye piece describing the track of four driver-less vehicles that successfully re-traced the route of Marco Polo. Autonomous vehicles seem to be improving dramatically rather rapidly. The fact that these are not sedans but the smallest style of commercial vehicle reinforces my expectation that we’ll see this technology in regular use for long haul freight hauling before it becomes an up-class option on your next personal vehicle.
  • Research suggesting an end run around scale limits of chip photo-lithography
    Chris Lee at Ars Technica describes so new work that may give Moore’s Law, as seen with current techniques for making computer chips, a reprieve until more advanced replacements come into play. The effective threshold on current photo-lithographic techniques is how small a bit of light you can cast through a mask onto the chip. What researchers are now realizing is that they may be able to manipulate secondary effects to go beyond this diffraction limit, continuing to shrink the scale at which they can manipulate materials with light.
  • Facebook adds friend stalker tool
    Slashdot is just one of many places pointing to this developer driven feature recently announced by the social networking giant. It is difficult to know if this really exposes any more private information than any other page or feature on the site. What is clear is that by casting it into a new context, the interactions between two friends the observer selects, more expectations are likely to be violated about where and how this information is seen.
  • Australian privacy commissioner slams data retention plan , Slashdot
  • Israel to join list of nations with ‘adequate’ data protection plans, The Register
  • Archive of Geocities being released as a near 1TB torrent, Techdirt

feeds | grep links > DoJ Fails to Report Wiretap Orders (Again), Ads with Cloud Printing, Ajax Library Targets Mobile Developers, and More

  • DoJ fails to report wiretaping activities to Congress, again
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt links through to some findings by Julian Sanchez that the Attorney General has failed for a period of some years to provide a report on the number of surveillance orders applied for by law enforcers. This report is meant to allow Congress to exercise proper oversight which has essentially just not happened for large swaths of the past decade. As Masnick goes on to explain, the DoJ has done this twice before, lapsing then dumping multiple years of data onto Congress effectively creating years of operation at a stretch where oversight was impossible.
  • HP experimenting with ad delivering on its cloud based printers
    Via Cory at Boing Boing, this Computerworld article has me very concerned. Automatically printing ads along with print jobs your submit over the net is very different from purely digital ads on web pages and email. A user of one of these printers is paying for consumables, most notably ridiculously over-priced ink. I don’t care if HP says their first test subjects didn’t mind, I have to imagine a majority of folks will be surprised, not sanguine, if not outright angry at the presumption.
  • ExtJS tries to harness developer outrage to fuel its new framework
    The Register has an announcement from the ExtJS folks, a dual license AJAX library, that they are launching a new project to compete with mobile apps by combining their library with a couple of others targeted at programming touch interfaces and vector graphics presumably including animation. I’ve worked with ExtJS in a professional capacity and I am not entirely impressed by this attention getting move. I won’t say the library is bad, it packs a lot of capabilities. However, I will say I don’t think it is any easier to program than the iOS or Android SDKs. If you want to target pure web applications using HTML5 at mobile devices, I am positive there are better options.
  • Inside Australia’s data retention proposal
  • Employee monitoring, when and why IT is expected to spy
    Via Slashdot.
  • More on issues, activism around filming police
  • VPNs not adequate to anonymize BitTorrent users

feeds | grep links > Data Retention Snuck into Child Protection Declaration, Where Are the Promising E-Book Readers, Another Case Against Apple’s Tools Restrictions, Macedonia Enables Massive Online Surveillance, and More

  • Search data retention clause snuck into EU child protection declaration
    EFF has the details, including that a majority of members of the EP didn’t spot the close and signed the declaration. Several have since withdrawn their signatures. Once again, no one is suggesting that protecting children online is a goal not worth pursuing. As the post says, it is not worth utilizing measures to do so that compromise other human rights.
  • Where are the promising e-book readers, post-Kindle, post-iPad?
    Jon Stokes at Ars Technica takes a look at two of the more promising e-book readers announced but not yet on the market. Both appear to have succumbed to delays and possibly an inability to deliver on ambitious technology promises. Both may be in financial trouble, with rumors of sale being sought for the companies behind them. Stokes sees the iPad as contributory but not entirely causative for the once promising future of these devices having evaporated. I’d be more upset if I, like Stokes, wasn’t still being print editions and enjoying them more than any kind of screen.
  • Apple’s iOS tools should compete on their strength, not arbitrary rules
    Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet’s Open Source blog has a decent rant that sums up many of the issues with Apple’s restrictions on tools and languages for its mobile platforms. He talks up Appcelerator, a company and tool caught in the middle that translates from other languages to Objective-C, seemingly getting around Apple’s restrictions. It is unclear whether this tactic will work but the adoption by developers points to a clear opportunity if Apple would just relax about its proprietary tool chain.
  • Macedonia introduces law allowing deep, persistent online surveillance
    Cory shares the horrifying tale at Boing Boing, what reads like any cyberlibertarian’s worst nightmare. Just about everything a law enforcement agency could want for wire-tapping online appears to be included. I don’t know what the history of policy is in Macedonia but it seems clear that the government ignored advice from several NGOs that gathered to discuss the human rights implications of the draft being passed without amendment.
  • Did SC use 2nd hand voting machines de-certified in another state?
  • Why banning filming of police is a terrible idea
  • New technical paper on ways to shift TV spectrum to wireless broadband

Google Personalized Search Now Opt Out

My friend Paul Fischer first brought this story to my attention and it popped up in my feeds from Slashdot, too, today.

What being “opt out” means is that the default is you are part of personalized search unless you clearly and explicitly opt out of it. In other words, the change here is that even if you are logged out of your Google account, you’ll still get personalized search based on an “anonymous” cookie assigned to you as a non-authenticated user.

Prior to this change, if you logged out, the act of doing so also opted you out of personalized search. Now you will need to take an additional step to do so. And I believe that opt-out still sends a tracking cookie to flag your preference to not receive personalized search results.

My concern here is that there has been quite a bit of disturbing research by Paul Ohm and others suggesting that anonymized data is anything but. If your so called anonymous data collected by Google through personalized search results touches any number of a small set of other data points, it may be possible for an interested party to correlate those touch points with the supposedly anonymous data and reveal personally identifying information, the toxic waste of online privacy.

Let’s face it, though, Google has all the incentive in the world to collect as much information about you as possible so this change is hardly surprising. They are in the business of selling the most effective advertising that they can. To drive better results for ad sales and hence more revenue by margin and volume, they need data, lots of it. The better they can correlate ad impressions to your paths you browse through the net and ideally the purchases you make along the way, the more compelling their ad service.

My hope is that scrutiny will keep pushing them closer to better behavior around privacy despite the gravity distorting pressures on them towards collecting more data. Also, its possible we’ll see more third party hackery, like the Firefox TACO add-on, to give choice and protection back to web surfers.