Harvard Law School
M.A. Columbia University
B.A. Yale University
Mediator, Judge Pro-Tem
Certified Family Law Specialist
licensed by the State Bar of California
Stan is a member of the
San Diego North County Bar Association .
Licensed to practice in California, Maryland, Washington D.C., & Georgia
Neither of them contributes its own content, but between them you can access virtually all the content anyone's ever created. Every time you do, you leave a trail leading back to you from the content you've found, and you can't erase the trail. Other people can access it.
Tracking you down from the content you consume is hardly new. Publishers have presumably been selling subscription lists to advertisers for a long time. Try subscribing to Architectural Digest. Provided you don't already subscribe to Vogue and Vanity Fair, the quality of your junk mail may mysteriously improve. Retailers do the same thing with customer information. Shopping at Neiman Marcus produces the same result.
This doesn't sound particularly threatening. If you like Architectural Digest, chances are you'll be happy to receive information about expensive European vacations. These days Google supposedly does the same thing, tailoring your search to you. When your previous searches indicate you shop for luxury items, searching for department stores produces a list with Saks Fifth Avenue on top, not Sears.
Now let's move from retailing to electioneering. If you're looking for undecided voters who could be persuaded to vote Republican, the list of voters who've labelled themselves Independents is helpful, but it doesn't tell you which way they might lean. You want to identify every Independent in your district whose on line searches indicate they're conservatives.
I'm not sure what an algorithm is, but I'm sure a satisfactory one can be devised (and undoubtedly has been) to identify the people you're looking for. You can then barrage them by mail and phone with Republican promotional materials. This has a whiff of Big Brother about it, but if the database and a corresponding algorithm is available to Democrats, why worry?
As I understand it, neither Google nor Microsoft make their databases available for political use, and as yet FaceBook will not even make its database available for commercial use. However, what would happen if one or more of them did? For the two major parties, parity during elections doesn't sound like a disaster, but what about the availability of one or all of the databases to the victor after the election?
That does sound like a disaster. Let's reduce the scale to make the consequences easier to see. I gather most universities now have codes of conduct prohibiting hate speech. These have been used to justify coerced retraction of speaking invitations issued by student organizations to controversial figures. In some cases coercion has been applied by faculty as well as offended students, and even by administrators.
The members of the offending organizations can be identified easily. Their sympathizers cannot. However, those students most likely to sympathize could be identified in the same way as you can be identified by your shopping habits, by the right algorithm applied to the sort of detailed databases already in existence. If those offended wish to retaliate against the sympathizers as well as the members, they can identify them and do so with the right algorithm and database. This can work in both directions, with conservatives or liberals on the receiving end.
Ramp this up to the level of government and things could get very unpleasant for dissenters of any stripe. Once identified as a dissident, your tax returns could be audited or your business closed by a supposed violation of environmental or other regulations. You could even be arrested and prosecuted for some alleged crime when you were obviously innocent. Freedoms we take for granted could easily be compromised or taken away.
The federal government apparently knows a great deal about you already. Google and Microsoft know the rest. The information is not dispersed in many places and difficult to collect. It is concentrated in two giant companies, who are at any time subject to government pressure in any number of ways. And Congress seems determined sooner or later to regulate the Internet.
Gorillas may be big and strong, but wild gorillas are in short supply. Most are in cages. Putting our two information accumulating gorillas, or even one of them, in a cage at the government zoo, with either political party as zookeeper, could have terrible consequences for our freedoms.
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