A few thoughts on data privacy

A bit of a search engine storm is brewing. And no, I’m not talking about the person who searched for “alchemy architects wee house photos” and came up with this, but, rather, the government attempt to subpoena search records from the major search engines. Microsoft and Yahoo have already bent over and said “oh” for the government–but Google has refused to comply with the subpoena, arguing that it compromises customer privacy and also proprietary search methods.

We’ll stick with the customer privacy issue for the moment. Google is certainly not a company known for being overly protective of customer privacy–in fact, a lot of their proprietary search methods involve getting a lot of information about the customer and using it to customize results. Did you know that a Google search turns up differently for every user, for example? This is, admittedly, one of the things that makes Google awesome–Google knows me, and it usually knows what I want, and is able to help me find it quickly and easily. I certainly wouldn’t entrust private or confidential information over Gmail, though, or rely too heavily on Google not using my information for unscrupulous purposes. Google doesn’t need to turn over our browsing history to Big Brother, because Google is big brother. And Google does admit to sharing information with third parties, although they claim it’s non-identifying. Google’s vast empire shares information with itself, though, and rampantly.

But here the government is, claiming that complete records of search results for one week in Google history will strike a resounding blow against child pornography.

Well, actually, it won’t. What’s happening here is that the Bush administration is trying to save the “Child Online Protection Act,” which is being challenged as “too broad” and as a potential threat to free speech. Now let’s just say this right now: I am violently against child pornography and child exploitation. While I loathe children, I think that using children for these purposes is wrong. I would say that in general I loathe exploitation, no matter what the age of the victim. But child pornography is, unfortunately, a big problem internationally because there are a lot of sick fucks out there. And this is, for sure, something we need to be fighting. However, I’m not sure the “Child Online Protection Act” is the right way to fight child pornography. The idea behind the act is that children should not be exposed to elicit material–which doesn’t sound to me so much like a law trying to fight child pornography, but a law on a much more slippery slope–obscenity.

The government claims that the law is better at filtering out explicit material than safe search and filters on search engines. My question, of course, is who is going to be protected from explicit material? As a consenting adult, I’ll be the first person to tell you that I love me some porn. And I am not comfortable with the government restricting my access to porn, or anything else, either. I’m also not comfortable with the government having access to my search records, because, as Kevin Bankston says, “what you Google for defines you.” This is why password protected filtering programs are in existence–so that mommy and daddy can download their porn, and the grunion can look up Blues Clues on the internet. To me, though, there’s a deeper problem here, which is that children should be supervised. The internet is not a babysitter. If you are concerned about your child being exposed to explicit material, try watching the little fucker while it surfs, instead of dumping it in front of the Dell and going out for drinks.

“Explicit material” is a dangerous phrase, because different people have different opinions on what is “explicit.” I, for example, cuss and talk about sex all the time. Does that make me explicit? Probably. Does this mean that children should not be reading my site? Probably, or if they are they should be reading the nice family friendly posts like…uh…who am I kidding. Does this mean, though, that my site should be excluded from search results because someone’s precious might find it? HELL NO, unless it’s because a parental filter which blocks out the word “fuck” is affecting the search results. A parental filter is a personal, one household choice, as opposed to one imposed by a third party. I can appreciate a parental desire to protect children from material which is too mature for them, but I do not think the government should be the arbiter and enforcer of mature material, because free speech is a value in this country. And the internet is a big place, and largely unenforceable (this being one of the problems with child pornography). Many people are opposed to the Chinese national firewall, as well they should be, and I think we should also be opposed to a law protecting us from ourselves.

Let’s sink the money into something worthwhile, like actually putting the scum who exploit children in jail, because, to me, the fact that there are probably hundreds of children out there being destroyed by their use in child pornography is a bigger issue than someone’s sheltered child possibly finding out that mommy and daddy weren’t just hugging. Child pornography is disgusting, and should be put to an end, but let’s leave the search filtering to CyberNanny, ok?

[data privacy]