Quirks in Tech

An informal space where I think about the oddities of technology, politics, and privacy. Also some other stuff.

Showing 6 posts tagged identity

Brief Thoughts on Google’s ‘Shared Endorsements’ Policy

Simon Davies, one of the world’s most prominent privacy advocates, has filed formal complaints across the EU concerning Google’s ‘Shared Endorsements’ policy. Per this policy, Google may use:

the images, personal data and identities of its users to construe personal endorsements published alongside the company’s advertised products across the Internet

The legality of recent changes to Google’s policies that allow the company to share personal data across all its products and services are currently being investigated by a number of EU data protection authorities. The data protection issues and violations highlighted in my complaint go the heart of many of the aspects under investigation. Indeed the Shared Endorsements policy is made possible only through company-wide amalgamation of personal data.

In effect, Davies argues that the amalgamation of Google’s services under the company’s harmonized privacy policy/data pooling policy may be illegal and that, moreover, individuals may not know that their images and comments might be revealed to people they know upon leaving reviews of products and services in Google-owned environments.  

Admittedly, I find that the shared pooling of information across my networks can be incredibly helpful (e.g. highlighting the reviews/opinions of people I know concerning various subjects and topics). Knowing that a colleague with whom I share book interests likes a book is more helpful to me than a review from someone that I don’t know. At the same time, I review products that I’ve purchased online quite often: given how helpful others’ reviews can be when I’m purchasing a product it seems like a courtesy to provide information into a private-commons. So, while I would prefer a review from a colleague I’m perfectly willing to make purchasing decisions based on what absolute strangers say/write as well.

The more significant issue with Google’s products, in my opinion, emerges from how the company’s business decisions are narrowing the range of commentary individuals may engage in. Such self-censorship is largely attributable to linking all comments to a person’s real name/public identity. Personally, this means that I often avoid leaving some book reviews, not because I’m ‘ashamed’ of the review but because I worry about whether it could detrimentally affect my future publishing opportunities. My reviews are (I think) reasonably high quality and fair but I refuse to leave some without some degree of pseudonymity. There is no reason to believe that my decision is unique: those in similar, tight-knit, industries likely experience similar pressures to avoid reviewing/commenting on some products, despite being experts concerning the product(s) in question. 

I am not from  a ‘marginalized’ or ‘repressed’ social population, and Google is seemingly deploying platforms that are meant to serve people like me: people who freely review products online and who find it acceptable that such reviews are publicly shared and oftentimes highlighted to specific users. And yet, even I avoid saying certain (legal) things based on the (unknown) consequences linked to such speech acts. Despite being reasonably savvy concerning the collection, use, and sharing of personal information even I do not fully appreciate or understand how Google collects, retains, processes, or disseminates information I provide to the company. If even I am censoring legitimate speech because of the vicissitudes of Google’s privacy policies and uncertainties associated with providing content on their platforms then there is (to my mind) a very serious problem at the very base of the company’s contemporary data-integration and disclosure operations. 

Nov 26, 2013

How Stephen Harper is rewriting history ∞

A good article on the relationship between changing what and how museums present as Canadian history, and contemporary Canadian identity.

Jul 29, 2013


At least Britain sort of got it half right. There, to make life easier for stores selling age-restricted items there’s a “Challenge 21″ programme, so anyone looking 21 or under is asked for ID, even if the products are restricted to over-18s. Tesco and other large chain stores championed a “Challenge 25″ programme just in case someone slipped through the net. Finally some idiot in the seaside resort of Blackpool came up with the idea of “Challenge 30″, which is roundly lambasted across Britain.

But at least these outlets demand high-integrity forms of ID such as driving licences. In the US you can show a picture of your dog pasted on the back of a chocolate biscuit and they’re likely to accept it.

That’s because no-one really knows why they are asking for ID in the first place, and no-one up the chain tells them – mainly because they don’t know either. Everyone just goes through the motions. There’s no way to verify the validity of ID, so everyone just plods along with the security theatre.


– Simon Davis, “How a dog and some chocolate biscuits reveal an identity crisis in America

Mar 2, 2013

Weapons-Grade Data ∞

Cory Doctorow being brilliant in sprucing up the metaphor that personally identifiable data is like nuclear waste. While the metaphor isn’t new, Doctorow does a great job as only a novelist can.

Every gram - sorry, byte - of personal information these feckless data-packrats collect on us should be as carefully accounted for as our weapons-grade radioisotopes, because once the seals have cracked, there is no going back. Once the local sandwich shop’s CCTV has been violated, once the HMRC has dumped another 25 million records, once London Underground has hiccoughup up a month’s worth of travelcard data, there will be no containing it.

And what’s worse is that we, as a society, are asked to shoulder the cost of the long-term care of business and government’s personal data stockpiles. When a database melts down, we absorb the crime, the personal misery, the chaos and terror.

Jan 27, 2012

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