Click here to 'Like' your Privacy, Part 1

Apr 4, 2012 by

My technological wizardry is at Muggle level, but by cutting and pasting some Google code into the blog header, I can access Google Analytics. Here are 7 things I can learn about visitors to my website:
1) How many people have visited, and their behavior at the site: how long they stay, what pages. None of this is individualized. Its just bar graphs and percentages. But.
2) I do get your IP address and city. New York, Texas, & California are tops so far. While Google Analytics doesn’t link an IP address with the location and everything else, it CAN, and it will. Just not for me.
3)What device and operating software or browser you use. This suprised me. I know that most people who visit use google Chrome. A few come via iPad, iPhone and Android OS.
4) How long you stay here, which page you start on, which page you leave from, the average length of a stay.
5) Where on the Internet you came from. If you googled to get here, Google Analytics will tell me which search terms you used. There are other ‘stats’ programs out there. I mention Google’s because its the one that was on my WordPress dashboard.
6) How many people have tweeted, facebooked and social media-ed the site, and how many people have clicked through those links. Again, this is all given to me as percentages. I can’t say that a person in Austin, TX used an iPad at 3:30 to visit three pages from a particular IP address, then tweeted about it. I can’t link each individual data set. I wouldn’t even presume to try. But others, like the Prime Minister of England, would.
7) Are you a little freaked out yet? I certainly was. I visit websites without thinking about the data I leave behind. How does it skew their data, when I get up from something and leave my computer on for three hours. Do they think I really liked the article? I’m rethinking my interest in some sites with a lot of ads. They need to collect that information about me, to justify their ad rates.

Privacy policies set out what companies will DO with the information they collect. I don’t think we are even beginning to understand HOW MUCH information a sophisticated corporation can gather.

We’re all dropping Internet spoor, everywhere we go. The trackers are getting lazier; soon they’ll just round us up into the Facebook corral and call it data farming.
The only privacy Americans have today is the hope that no one gives a shit. And hope is inadequate armor for a constitutional right.

So what are your privacy rights regarding communication? Well, as technology evolves, so do law enforcements’ attempts to use it.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote about a case in which an Occupy Wall Street protester used Twitter to communicate. Law enforcement wanted the IP addresses from his Twitter account:

Twitter keeps track of IP address information regarding every time a person logged into Twitter, as well as the IP address information related to a Twitter user’s direct messages to other users, and the date and time information related to these log ins and direct messages. Armed with IP addresses, the government — without a warrant — can go to an ISP to determine who was assigned that particular IP address. And if that person connected on a mobile device — which is where the majority of Twitter users access their accounts — the ISP will hand over to the government the specific cell tower (and its corresponding geographic location) which that person used to access Twitter. This allows the government to piece together a map of where a person physically is when he opens Twitter on his smartphone, sends a direct message to a friend, or Tweets. And with that information, the government could get a record of Mr. Harris’ movement over the three months it requested from Twitter. It’s no surprise then that the government singled out Mr. Harris for this request: he currently has over 1,500 followers and 7,200 Tweets.

There is a lot happening in the world of communications privacy, not much of it favoring privacy. The attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in 2001 heightened governments fear of being caught again with its pants down; if it knows everything about everyone, then maybe it will be free from the terror of screwing up?


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