In the first few days of 1999, Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, said “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
This was in response to a group of reporters questioning him about the privacy of users using their (Sun) products.
Since then of course we have the 9,000 lb Gorilla in the corner of the room, Google, and the similarly weighty primates known as Facebook, Ebay/paypal, et al.
As someone who worked in IT, I was always singularly aware of the insatiable appetite for data about me that all these companies have, and, being a fairly private person, made a point of avoiding giving my data wherever possible, and where this was not possible, poisoning it with erroneous data… pity the poor fool who actually has the firstname.lastname@example.org email.
I was under no illusion why these companies wanted data about us all, or what they did with it, and I did not like the idea of being a number in a file, under the corporate Eye of Sauron, profiled and monitored and monetised.
And then in 2009 I woke up one day to find myself the target of a malicious False Rape Accusation as part and parcel of a separation / child custody battle, and all my private and work computers and servers were seized, for computer forensic inspection by the Police.
And I discovered first hand that the Police really do mean it when they say that stuff about “…may be used against you…” and it really is no accident that they do not say anything at all about stuff that may be used for you, to clear you, to exonerate you, to prove your innocence.
I wish there was some way of communicating the importance of the above paragraph to you, ACHTUNG! MINEFIELD! Doesn’t quite cut it, because you’d simply back off, maybe if the sign said “You are here!” instead, showing you in the middle of a minefield…
The minefield of data, all of which can be employed AGAINST you, none of which will be used for you, because the only person whose interests are served by that are you yourself.
It was an “interesting” experience for me, intellectually, several terabytes of data removed from me, and being searched for anything that would assist in my conviction, with me of course having zero access, so no way of searching for anything that would assist in proving my innocence.
Increasingly Facebook data is being used in the same way, used to prove some sort of culpability, whether it is in a civil separation case, or a more serious criminal assault / domestic violence case, or a serious as cancer rape accusation.
Of course all the Lawyers, Judges, Police are all rubbing their hands at this new mountain of data that they get to pore through…. That drunken tweet you posted at 3 am that was inadvertently altered by predictive text can now hang you, almost literally…
Which brings me to Google in general, Google Maps 5.1 in particular, and Android smartphones specifically.
Now I can be tracked (technically it is my smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S, no me, but legally nowadays this is increasingly a distinction without a difference) 24/7 to an accuracy of a few metres.
The old, pre False Rape Accusation, me was a private person, the idea of Google tracking me was horrific, why don’t I just bloody live in a fishbowl, it’s not even like the bastards were paying me for the privilege of tracking me and profiling me.
However, the new, post-False-Rape-Accusation me looks at this new technology, and all I can see is “I wish I had this shit for the past five years.”
Because, you see, I, and my lawyers, will always be able to access Google’s records, they will never be seized and hidden and locked away in a small Police station, inaccessible to anyone except a couple of Police forensic types.
It would be most interesting to be able to point out, cheerfully, that at the time of the alleged offence, I was clearly doing 55 mph down Route66, a distance of 87 miles from the location of the alleged offence.
To be sure, much of what I was accused of was vague, literally no more accurate than a season, as it “it happened late 2010 or early 2011, I can’t remember any more details than that, but it happened” which sort of nonsense my Google Maps and Check-In history won’t be a great deal of use of as exculpatory evidence.
But, everyone is signing up for this stuff, Facebook places etc., people sign up for this to get 5 cents off a Starbucks, so in fact you are going to be looking for an overlap, IN TIME AND IN SPACE between the tracks of your accuser, and yourself, and this will have to coincide with the date of the accusation.
Even if all this still puts you in the frame, if both you and your accused post to your Facebook wall, chat, tweet, Buzz or anything else, there is going to be a record, and it is going to sound very strange when someone who accuses you of rape turns out to have been in Starbucks tweeting about the latest vampire movie.
Even better, these temporal tracks and traces reveal a close friend of your accused, who met your accuser in Starbucks 30 minutes after you are alleged to have beaten the crap out of her 5 miles away, and the close friend of your accused uses their phone camera to grab a snapshot to post, time and location stamped, to Facebook / Buzz / whatever, clearly showing the alleged victim un-ruffled, un-bruised, un-beaten up, un-assaulted.
The danger lies in the fact that these tracks and traces can be used to charge you with something you never did… it is the modern equivalent of taking DNA samples of all men in a town, in the future the Police will just subpoena the relevant social networking sites, and get a list of all men who were within 50 metres of the alleged crime scene, within 1 hour of the alleged crime time.
Just as today, this “evidence” can and will be used “against you” and not for you, not to exculpate you, but the fact is that this danger exists anyway, and even if you don’t sign up for these things, the cell phone and social networking companies track you anyway, to a lower accuracy by tower triangulation, to higher accuracy if you use any gps/location data, so it’s not like you can opt out, except by being a luddite like pre-False-Rape-Accusation me, which mean different, which means suspicious / weird / loner / deviant / etc.
On the other hand, if you embrace these new technologies, then they suddenly become available for you, and your lawyers, to use in your defence, and you aren’t really giving up any essential privacy, because as McNealy said a shade over twelve years ago, you don’t have any privacy, get used to it.
On the other hand, you never had the opportunity to build a 24/7 alibi either.
Tags – Google Maps – Google Maps Check In – Google Latitude – Google Buzz – Google Android.