A Google monopoly today means packet snooping tomorrow

A plan to protect our privacy


Now that America’s lawmakers have repaired the world economy, they can turn their attention to more mundane matters, such as saving the Internet.

There’s an inherent conflict between traditional notions of personal privacy and the Internet’s emerging goldmine, targeted advertising. Other than the subscription fees that carriers collect for access to the Internet itself, the only reliable revenue stream the ’Net has ever generated is ad sales, which mostly depend on the advertiser having knowledge of the consumer’s tastes and interests.

Google's targeted advertising program AdSense is even more intrusive than the controversial Phorm and NebuAd systems. For example, Gmail scans your personal communication for keywords - there is no opt-out, and using a secure tunnel is no protection. More recently, Google has stepped up the aggressiveness of its program by shifting the tracking cookie used by AdSense from an opt-in to an opt-out system of consent, where opting-out requires arcane knowledge on the part of the consumer

"The tension between privacy and revenue took center stage in a House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet hearing on Internet privacy at which I was a witness recently. The new chairman, Rick Boucher, intends to conduct a series of hearings around a privacy bill he’s promised to introduce later in the session, the next of which will include actual ad merchants, such as Google and Yahoo.

No major American ISP is currently using DPI to track consumer behaviour, and the web trackers would prefer it remains that way. The practical implication of the current state of play would have Google gaining a functional monopoly on targeted advertising in the very near future, at which point we might reasonably expect Congress to beg ISPs to start using DPI to track consumer behaviour.

Instant Karma

As Scott McNealy and others have observed, there’s precious little privacy on the Internet. I was reminded of this by the author of one of the first Internet RFCs on my flight to DC. But that doesn’t prevent Google’s champions from using the privacy canard to preserve the status quo. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D, Google) tried to skewer me before the committee because of a remark in my written testimony on the conflict between privacy and targeted advertising - I suggested that the only way to ensure personal privacy in the long term is for users to pay for content and services. The threat to privacy isn’t technical. It is a consequence of the Internet’s business model.

Eshoo quoted one of my sentences, calling it a modern day “Modest Proposal,” and asked the fire-breathing privacy advocates what they thought about it. The answer she got set her back on her heels, as the only witness to answer, EPIC chairman Marc Rotenberg, took the point even further, warning that the growth of unfettered advertising would come to have a corrupting effect on publishing itself, leading to a credibility meltdown of sorts.

Score 1-nil to the geek.

Next page: The Kumbaya Moment

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022