Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

seriously though

So, before anyone throws a fit about my Google-HeavenSearch fake news item, I just wanted to say a couple of things.

No, I'm not dismissing any of the issues. I'm just saying that it seems to me pretty hypocrytical all the immense attention that is being given to the privacy concerns (which exist) regarding Google when there are way more pressing concerns in many other areas. Other search engines. Other identity systems. Airline reservation systems. Credit card systems.

Yes, even I haven't been always raising these issues in unison, but they should be. Privacy breaks down at the weakest point, not just for Google.

For example, lots of attention has been given to Google not "guaranteeing" that an email in GMail will actually be completely deleted. But let's be realistic. Have Microsoft or Yahoo! or AOL ever guaranteed that? Not that I'm aware of.

Writing in, Declan McCullagh has one of the few fairly balanced views that I've seen on the topic. He rightly points to the real problem, which is centralized systems, not Google in particular. (See also here). If you want something to be fully private, then just don't use, say, a webmail account for it.

Some of the complaints, however, have had to do with the precedent that this sets. Precedent? When companies like Gator provide software that is installed on millions of machines and basically acts like a Trojan to track behavior? When most email messages exchanged travel unencrypted through the Internet?

Come on.

Yes, these are real issues. But it's not a Google problem alone. It's structural to the kind of service being provided, part of its nature. I've tried GMail (I will hopefully have time to comment on that specifically later) and Google is doing something basically similar to others, improving on several respects (and a number of very cool ideas), changing others, and still lagging behind on some.

For me the solution is clear: decentralization, plus end-to-end encryption at the application level based on public-key infrastructure. Centralized systems have their pros and cons, as anything--and it seems that these days it is too easy to imagine that they have to be good (and perfect) for everything, and even more, that a single company has to be responsible for fixing all that's wrong in the world.

Okay, diatribe finished. :-))

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12 2004 at 7:02 PM

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