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October 15th, 2011

Evgeny Morozov finds Jeff Jarvis' latest paean to the wonders of the internet deeply flawed, and rather unserious:

Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates – "there is money to be made in privacy" – who are paid to mislead the "netizens," that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. On Jarvis's scale of evil, privacy advocates fall between Qaddafi's African mercenaries and greedy investment bankers. All they do is "howl, cry foul, sharpen arrows, get angry, get rankled, are incredulous, are concerned, watch, and fret." Reading Jarvis, you would think that Privacy International (full-time staff: three) is a terrifying behemoth next to Google (lobbying expenses in 2010: $5.2 million).

"Privacy should not be our only concern," Jarvis declares. "Privacy has its advocates. So must publicness." He compiles a long and somewhat tedious list of the many benefits of "publicness": "builds relationships," "disarms strangers," "enables collaboration," "unleashes the wisdom (and generosity) of the crowd," "defuses the myth of perfection," "neutralizes stigmas," "grants immortality … or at least credit," "organizes us," and even "protects us." Much of this is self-evident. Do we really need to peek inside the world of Internet commerce to grasp that anyone entering into the simplest of human relationships surrenders a modicum of privacy? But Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims.

Contrary to Jarvis' protestations, Morozov's review doesn't read to me as a personal attack – more a clinical, brutal dismantling of a collection of shallow cliches in support of the argument that we shouldn't worry about the way pretty much every commercial entity we deal with online seeks to hoover up as much personal information about our use of the internet as it can because the (somewhat nebulous) benefits outweigh the potential problems. So long as you respect your cultural norms, you'll be fine.

[Via The Awl]

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Anonymity is dead: get over it!

June 9th, 2011

Is there anything that can't be used to identify us these days?

Today, Joe Calandrino, Ed Felten and [Will Clarkson] are releasing a new result regarding the anonymity of fill-in-the-bubble forms. These forms, popular for their use with standardized tests, require respondents to select answer choices by filling in a corresponding bubble. Contradicting a widespread implicit assumption, we show that individuals create distinctive marks on these forms, allowing use of the marks as a biometric. Using a sample of 92 surveys, we show that an individual's markings enable unique re-identification within the sample set more than half of the time. The potential impact of this work is as diverse as use of the forms themselves, ranging from cheating detection on standardized tests to identifying the individuals behind "anonymous" surveys or election ballots. [...]

[Via Screenshot: A Weblog]

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