Wed 3 Jun 2009
Tech Crunch claims repeatedly that Last.fm passed user data on to notorious extortion syndicate theRIAA has become. Their reports are based on unnamed sources, but Last.fm’s strong denial strengthens the suspicion that it may be indeed true (Prince Gorchakov, Russian foreign minister in the 19th century used to say that he doesn’t believe rumors that have not been strongly denied).
The prospect of RIAA thugs laying their hands on records of what all Last.fm users listened to over – in many cases – years is something that should serve as a wake up call for all of us. Even if it did not happen yet there is no guarantee it won’t happen in the future. Actually, one can be sure that one day it will. As we move more of our data to the notorious “cloud” – that is machines we have no control over at all – we basically make it available to the highest bidder. And consequently we loose some degree of control over our lives and privacy.
Conversely, the corporations operating the “cloud” get more and more insight into our lives, views, relationships, material possessions and even thoughts. Then they sell it to advertisers, governments and – as it turns out – RIAA thugs. This is, basically, why all those services are free to use. The users pay for them not with currency but with their data they feed into them.
And Last.fm is just the tip of the iceberg. Think of Google. If you use the whole range of their compellingly simple and easy to use services then they can corelate your e-mails kept in GMail with your photos kept in Picasa, with your conversations on Groups, your blog posts on their blogging engine, your documents and spreadsheets in their Docs and even your browsing history if you use their browser toolbar or Chromium browser. And they don’t have to manually browse through all that to use it – on the contrary, they can algorithmically process all this data and single out people that match a certain profile. Or detect trends. Or predict events. Or map people’s connections.
There is a book out now called “The Numerati” written by Stephen Baker that describes in terms understandable for a layman what can be algorithmically derived from all the data we leave about us. It is all great for marketers for pinpointing their advertising Google and others live off. But it’s also great for secret police and others who want to single out people based on their views or associations. And great for governments who want to know about trends in a population even before they are publicly expressed.
You think Google won’t work hand in hand with the government if asked, that they would resist to protect your privacy? Don’t delude yourself – they will do it the instant some types from NSA or another gov agency walk into their offices. And they even do it publicly now. Yeah, I know, it is just for predicting flu outbreaks and who would object to something this good etc. But same technology can be used for detecting and pinpointing, say, tax dissent (like tea parties). Or map support for anti-Obama politicians – especially given Google’s political views being in line with the current’s administration.
Since I have been using GMail for some time now I think Google knows more about me than any of the people close to me in the real life. I should have moved away from GMail already – the reason I didn’t do it yet is that using their services is so easy and in our busy lives there is little space left for setting up private servers, installing spam-fighting software etc. But the more I see and realize what is going on the more I’m compelled to do this.
For now I’ve uninstalled the Last.fm’s scrobbler – and so should you.