Privacy Lusitania

I’ve been waiting for the Privacy Lusitania, an event when the infrastructure fails and public opinion galvanizes around solving it. I think it’s a pretty apt metaphor. In WWI people thought everything was OK in the US until the vaguely dangerous power hit the US infrastructure by sinking a commercial transport ship. (Of course that’s all arguable.) 9/11 fits the same logic, but is way more complex in the social psyche.

When I read about the MySpace private photos leak, I thought this could be the I Lusitania was waiting for. But the press has been pretty quiet, by what I’ve seen. Why aren’t people up in arms? Why aren’t they suing MySpace? Does MySpace have any liability at all?

These pictures are on hard drives around the world in a big BitTorrent cloud. They will never go away. Accessible face recognition is here. Riya has been doing it for years and startup Polar Rose is rolling out a web service next quarter. Someone with enough time to make a point could easily run all these photos through face recognition and start putting together some pieces. They could make a wiki or ESP Game app where volunteers name the people in the photos. In fact, since the photos are linked to MySpace account IDs, there’s a whole lot that can be found out with some simple data mining. Those users can delete their accounts, but those pictures will live on in the torrent, undeletable.

Boing Boing recently had a headline, “Database leaks are as immortal and toxic as nuclear spills — let’s start acting like it”. I think now that Chernobyl is a better, albeit slightly ragged, metaphor. When will the public confidence in our privacy infrastructure melt down? It looks like it may be happening in England with those DVDs of private records lost repeatedly in the post. (And the article quoted in BB was from The Guardian.)

The power of IT to destroy privacy been advancing rapidly. Yet over last 7 years while we should have been working to preserve it, we’ve been convinced not to, in order to be safe. Don’t believe it. Security is not at odds with privacy. Security requires privacy.

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