Ya Think?

You’re Leaving a Digital Trail. What About Privacy? (pdf)

Propelled by new technologies and the Internet’s steady incursion into every nook and cranny of life, collective intelligence offers powerful capabilities, from improving the efficiency of advertising to giving community groups new ways to organize.

But even its practitioners acknowledge that, if misused, collective intelligence tools could create an Orwellian future on a level Big Brother could only dream of.

Collective intelligence could make it possible for insurance companies, for example, to use behavioral data to covertly identify people suffering from a particular disease and deny them insurance coverage. Similarly, the government or law enforcement agencies could identify members of a protest group by tracking social networks revealed by the new technology. “There are so many uses for this technology — from marketing to war fighting — that I can’t imagine it not pervading our lives in just the next few years,” says Steve Steinberg, a computer scientist who works for an investment firm in New York.

In a widely read Web posting, he argued that there were significant chances that it would be misused, “This is one of the most significant technology trends I have seen in years; it may also be one of the most pernicious.”

Mixed Verdict in Meier Trial

MySpace trial: Jury finds woman guilty of lesser charges (pdf)

Online safety experts said the verdict puts the onus on social networking sites to police their customers activities.

“I think the industry was hoping there would be a strong verdict blaming one user for abusing another because that way its not their fault,” said Linda Criddle, a safety expert. “These companies claim to have good standards and then do nothing to enforce them. They let people breach their terms and conditions and do nothing about it.”

See also Mother Convicted in MySpace Suicide Hoax Case and In the wake of MySpace verdict, could social networks do more to protect consumers?

Later: Lori Drew Is a Meanie: The problem with prosecuting cyber-bullying; from Slate.

The $64,000 Question

When I saw the article in the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago about Google searches and tracking the spread of influenza (pdf), I knew I’d get around to it eventually. What I didn’t expect was to find a commentary on the Times’ website that so clearly raised the key question I had: The Media Equation – Google Seduces With Utility (pdf)

If Google owns me, it’s probably because I am in favor of what works.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, who was in New York last week. “We want a little bit of Google in many parts of your life.”

Mission accomplished, at least on my desktop, but I asked Mr. Schmidt if I shouldn’t be worried that I am putting all of my digital eggs in one multicolored, goofy-lettered basket.

“That depends on what you think of our company and our values,” he said. “Do you believe we have good values?”

The subtext, of course, is whether trust is enough. And what instruments are available once that trust is gone. Should/can one rely upon a firm like Google to offer up meaningful tools to act on how that trust might change over time?

Boston Globe Editorial on Google Booksearch Deal

The Boston Globe reminds its readers that a settlement doesn’t really resolve an issue: Goldmine of ideas — or theft? (pdf)

Before enraptured readers dive in, however, they should know what they aren’t getting. Because this case settled, the court didn’t rule on the issue of fair use. So while Google has hammered out a commercial solution for itself, the country still needs a legal ruling on what fair use means in the Internet age.

Pricing, Content and Value

The equation continues to evolve: Scene Stealer – For a Thrifty Audience, Buying DVDs Is So 2004 (pdf)

Does an economy in tatters slow down or speed up the shift to watching TV shows and movies on the Web and mobile devices? The entertainment industry doesn’t like the answer that is rapidly becoming clear: A global economic crisis almost certainly means a sharp acceleration in the move to new ways of consuming content, setting the stage for a new clash between consumers and studios.

An Update on the Meier/Drew Case

Woman Who Posed as Boy Testifies in Case That Ended in Suicide of 13-Year-Old (pdf)

“You’re the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over,” the woman, Ashley Grills, said the 13-year-old girl, Megan Meier, wrote before taking her own life.

Testifying under an immunity agreement with federal prosecutors, Ms. Grills, 20, described how she came up with the idea to create a fake MySpace account with the identity of a cute teenage boy. The goal, she said, was to draw in Megan and learn about her and things she might have been saying about the teenage daughter of Ms. Grills’s friend and employer, Lori Drew.

Ms. Drew, who lives in a suburb of St. Louis and was a neighbor of the Meiers, is charged with conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress.

Legal experts believe the trial is an unprecedented use of computer fraud statutes to prosecute a case involving how people use a social networking site. […]

A distressing, related story, particularly in light of yesterday’s posting: Florida teen kills self in front of live webcam (pdf)

Skills: Check. Grasp of Consequences/Implications: (I’ll Get Back To You).

And yet, if the headline is to be believed, nothing to worry about: Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing (pdf)

“It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages,” said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, “Living and Learning With New Media.” “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, conducted from 2005 to last summer, describes new-media usage but does not measure its effects.

“It certainly rings true that new media are inextricably woven into young people’s lives,” said Vicki Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its program for the study of media and health. “Ethnographic studies like this are good at describing how young people fit social media into their lives. What they can’t do is document effects. This highlights the need for larger, nationally representative studies.”

Turf Wars, Surveillance and Legality

The fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of a turf war over secret surveillance, at the end, is possibly the most enervating thing about all of this: New York Police Fight With U.S. on Surveillance (pdf)

The Police Department, with the largest municipal counterterrorism operation in the country, wants the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to loosen their approach to the federal law that governs electronic surveillance. But federal officials have refused to relax the standards, and have said requests submitted by the department could actually jeopardize surveillance efforts by casting doubt on their legality.

[…] In his five-page letter on Oct. 27, Mr. Kelly wrote to Mr. Mukasey charging that the F.B.I. and Justice Department had thwarted the Police Department’s intelligence efforts in two specific cases. He wrote that federal authorities were “constraining” critical terrorism investigations in New York and said the federal government “is doing less than it is lawfully entitled to protect New York City,” concluding that “the city is less safe as a result.”

Mr. Mukasey, in a seven-page retort, dated Oct. 31, dismissed what he called Mr. Kelly’s “alarming conclusions” as factually incorrect. Mr. Mukasey wrote that Mr. Kelly was in effect proposing that the Justice Department and the F.B.I. disregard the law, as spelled out in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

“Not only would your approach violate the law, it would also in short order make New York City and the rest of the country less safe,” wrote Mr. Mukasey, a federal judge in Manhattan before he became attorney general.

Long Time, No See!

Sorry, everyone (anyone?) — it’s been a particularly busy month, and I’m only just now getting started on trying to catch up: Online Privacy Group Seeks Role in Mapping Out Policy (pdf)

A group of privacy scholars, lawyers and corporate officials are launching an advocacy group today designed to help shape standards around how companies collect, store and use consumer data for business and advertising.

The group, the Future of Privacy Forum, will be led by Jules Polonetsky, who until this month was in charge of AOLs privacy policy, and Chris Wolf, a privacy lawyer for law firm Proskauer Rose. They say the organization, which is sponsored by AT&T, aims to develop ways to give consumers more control over how personal information is used for behavioral-targeted advertising.

The Modern Music Biz

Whatever your genre: Taylor Swift, Nashville’s One-Woman Youth Movement

Thus far Ms. Swift, who spends much of her free time updating her MySpace page and editing personal videos to upload to the Internet, has not had a tough time finding the right balance. She has quickly established herself as the most remarkable country music breakthrough artist of the decade. In part that’s because she is one of Nashville’s most exciting songwriters, with a chirpy, exuberant voice. But mainly Ms. Swift’s career has been noteworthy for what happens once the songs are finished. She has aggressively used online social networks to stay connected with her young audience in a way that, while typical for rock and hip-hop artists, is proving to be revolutionary in country music. As she vigilantly narrates her own story and erases barriers between her and her fans, she is helping country reach a new audience.