Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Some Thoughts On Internet Privacy

Once my friend claimed, Bing can identify you using 128 different parameters and can store all the searches you have done so far. Though i dont bing, i know Google has control to more parameters has more data. It is equally frustrating when Facebook asks "how far from <here> do you live ?", and claims it will customize my experience based on that. Very rarely i think about these seriously. This post is the result of one such thought.

Back in college, i had the habit of doing egoistic searches. Will type my name or email address in Google and feel happy if i get few pages of search results. It gave a sense of false significance. I tried doing it a while ago, after so many years. Now it is a bit alarming when i see my name or information listed there. While i do pay some attention to this and try to keep things private,  with the number of websites i have account in, this was expected. What set me off was this site called "yatedo".  Yatedo is a people search engine, but how it operates seems to be a little different. Yatedo scraps information from your public profile and creates its own Yatedo profile page, will all the information including links to blog posts. If you do not want it, you have to opt out :-) Pretty cool, huh ? Atleast the creators thought so.

Who gives them the information ? It is us. Google/Facebook/LinkedIn, usually change their privacy policies, give you a two page essay to read. Never have i bothered to check it out, but i do change the settings and try to avoid displaying a lot of personal details as public. What i missed, Yatedo caught. A lot of debate is already happening in the web about Yatedo, but they manage to stay safe hiding behind some French law, which once again i never bothered to check. Read this in Quora, if you are not aware - For a while I was furious about being ignorant, but when i saw most of my friends do have an yatedo profile, i felt a little ok :P The quora link has information on how to delete the information and how to make your stuff private, if you want to. After doing the steps in the link, also try to request google to remove it from search results -

This is part of a big problem. It is always scary to think about what Google/Facebook/LinkedIn do with the data. While facebook does provide a way to deactivate your profile, linkedin does not even have an option. You can only disable your public profile. I never bothered to check about Google, because i am not planning to do it anytime. It is tough to get out of the web created by Google. Google has simplified a lot of things and that has made me totally dependent on it. When i store a contact in my android phone, i choose my google account as the one where the information should go. Considering that i format, root, install a different ROM or keep testing my phone now and then, storing in google looks like a good option to make sure i don't lose my contacts anytime.

As a last point, How far can companies  benefit from this frivolous data. I have no clue, i have less idea about Big data, what exactly are the data they are looking at, how exactly can they use the data in decision making. Recently i received a amazon gift voucher from Amazon for Rs.100, for taking up a survey and letting them know about my shopping preference. If Amazon is willing to pay Rs.100 to get views of a guy who is not a avid shopper, may be it is safe to assume that companies are looking for data seriously. What if they have the data from which they can guess. Do companies like Google possess such data. What about governments ? Will be happy if they are not. This episode of "Numb3rs" TV serial episode seems to be on related lines - watch if you have 40 minutes.

"Google is Skynet" looks like a pretty valid statement.  I am not sure about that, only thing i am sure is i will not be the one that the terminators will come searching for :D :D :D As of now I am in a state of rest with incomplete data, feeding data to Google and getting few things done easily from them. As Newton said, need a external force for any change in action. Will continue to do so till acted upon by external force.