Algorithmic privacy versus personal privacy

In this blog post, Peter Kinnaird, attempts to analogize the NSA spying to the algorithmic review of our emails by Google. He notes that a majority of people accept such review as non-invasive and worth the benefits derived from free and useful email-as-a-service. I would like to point out several fallacies in his analysis.

  1. As a quick note, he says “I feel certain that if Google didn’t have adequate social and technical safeguards in place, we would have heard of at least one case of a Google employee snooping or abusing their power.” Here is the one case I’m familiar with: This doesn’t mean their aren’t others that Google quietly fired in order to keep out of the press. Government employee abuse of the information at their disposal is rampant and has huge historical precedent, whether sanctioned by higher ups or performed by rogue individuals.
  2. The post fails to distinguish the voluntary nature of participation with Gmail and the involuntary participation in the state surveillance apparatus. Mutuality is the cornerstone of privacy expectations. Without voluntariness, mutuality can not exist.
  3. The post fails to consider the risks involved in revealing information to Google versus the government. If I reveal information to Google I might get mislabeled and have inappropriate ads sent to me. If I get reveal information to the government, i might get mislabeled and jailed or murdered.
  4. The post mentions the public awareness of Google’s practice but fails to contrast that with the secret nature of the NSA program. Overt versus covert makes a world of difference in privacy. We don’t even know what we don’t know about NSA spying.
  5. The post fails to consider other, less privacy invasive means of achieving the same results, i.e. national security. Any privacy analysis of a system must dismiss other means of achieving the same goals.

There are a host of non-privacy related issues having to do with NSA spying, such as international relations and the loss of world wide confidence in buying American information services, that also need to be considered. Frankly a world in which I am spied on, personally or algorithmically, is not one in which I wish to live.


Suggested reading:   1984, The Trial