Friday, January 20, 2006

The freedom to Google

The recent news that Google was defying a subpoena by the Bush Administration came as a shock on several levels.

The first blow to the senses was the realization that this administration truly is like the multiheaded monster in the Disney film Hercules: cut off one head and two even more menacing ones grow back.

What bold little buggers these people are that are trying to have their privacy-violating fingers in every aspect of our daily lives. Slap them down here, and they pop up over there. Let's see what we can get away with before anyone catches on.

And let's do it all in the name, again, of National Security.

The second, and most painful blow to the head came from the realization that Google is the only company named as being "defiant." That means every other Search company out there, from Yahoo! to MSN to AOL said "Sure, no problem."

These companies turned over data (without so much as a public notification) that is damn-near useless for anything except innocent persecution. Oh, but they say they've only turned over "search strings" - yeah, don't believe it. Search strings are meaningless when viewed in the vacuum of anonymity.

Why do I say that? Because search queries tell you absolutely NOTHING without being seen in context of the person doing the query, or in relation to other queries made by the same person - and even then, what little information "seems" to be relevant is just as easily misinterpreted by goons sitting in a corner trying to define "patterns" based on... well... random information. It's all make believe.

Let me put it another way. Let's say the intent really is to define a "pattern" when looking at search queries. The only possible way to define a useful pattern would be to link search queries to an individual "requester." Otherwise, there's no pattern to be established. To be able to do that means there must be access to some level of user data - at the least, an IP address.

So, that requires that more information is being looked at than just random search queries.

But, the bottom line still revolves around the fact that even with this information in hand, its usefulness is remains nonexistent. I do web development (and obviously some political blogging). I constantly scour the web for lots of information types and visit politically questionable sites, as well as what some would call "morally" questionable sites. I'm an information hound and a research zealot. Look at my search queries in any given week and you may get an entirely different picture of "me" than who I really am.

But, once a pattern is defined, who I "really" am wouldn't matter. If my queries fit the pattern, then I'm a suspect (or guilty!) - without any crime being committed. Minority Report come to life.

Well, we've already seen the emergence of the "thought police" in american society, so maybe this shouldn't be so shocking.

We're twenty years late, but 1984 is ominously starting to ring true.

Oh Big Brother Where Art Thou!



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