Privacy & .Net

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Privacy is Dead!
by Mike Banks Valentine

WebSite101 has long been an advocate of bringing *all*
businesses, big and small online. We have focused most of
our energy on bringing the home office online, assuring
that mom and pop businesses get their share of the internet

Now the big boys have come to recognize that almost anything
and everything can be accomplished online and the world is
shrinking. Mom and pop, meet global business. Hewlett-Packard
has announced that they are leading us all toward eConnection.
Their television ads suggest the melding of every aspect of
our lives through the internet.

Imagine the possiblilities of linking online from your health-
care providers to your local paramedics through the internet.
Extrapolating from that point suggests linking to medical
records, health databases, family medical histories, DNA maps
and onward toward complete knowledge of *your* physical being.

Now Microsoft has proposed that they be the "Keeper" of all
this information as the host of .Net or Dot Net. A sweeping
proposal that suggests not only that they be the guardian
of all our information, but that we pay them to do so!
.Net is a big dot NOT for me. I can't imagine Bill as the
Gatekeeper of my personal information while charging me to
access all of it when needed!

The possible invasion of privacy seems nearly as immense as
the good to be done by these vast linkages of information. I
predict that the biggest debate to emerge this decade will be
how to preserve your privacy in the developing network of
databases which house some aspect of your lives. It seems
that since Bill Gates suggested .Net, a new proposal has
come from the "Open Source" crowd that information should
not be "owned" so they've suggested their version of .Net.

Nyet! Not Yet! Dot Net!

Online advertiser DoubleClick got a giant dose of a bitter
reality pill when they attempted to merge two databases of
previously unlinked information. They have gathered infor-
mation on the online behavior and preferences of millions
of web surfers and thought they'd link that information to
a database of the physical addresses and telephone numbers
of those surfers. The resultant uproar stopped them cold.

People love convenience, but demand privacy.

I am a lover of technology, and as such, I've established
online accounts with banks, retail stores, virtual offices,
employers and virtual business partners that I've never met
in person. The majority of my income this year was derived
from virtual employment on projects. In order to gain that
business, I spread my qualifications and resume far and
wide over the web in publicly accessible databases.

The idea of providing that information to the world is just
short of horrifying to my wife. She has nothing to hide and
much to be proud of in her career and professional life, but
will not make it publicly accessible. This is a possible
stumbling block to the eConnection of the world. If you want
the convenience of universal information sharing, sort of
an "Open Source" of personal data, you have to agree to tell
the world everything.

When you do, you open yourself to some major inconvenience
as happened to yours truly. I became the unwitting innocent
victim of "identity theft" recently when an unscrupulous
evildoer somehow got my personal information and committed
major bank fraud using a fake driver license and withdrawal
slip. The good news is that the transaction was videotaped
and the FBI is on their tail. Clearly, it'll take some time
to recover from the damage done to my credit and I'll never
recover the days of time spent doing police reports and
bank fraud forms.

The bad news is that now I don't trust online databases
either. I've lost my innocence and my credit's gone to hell.
But since I've spread my digital self so widely, I'll never
recover all that information and I need to remain vigilant.
The odd thing is that I still prefer online shopping, online
banking and online work because of the convenience.

How are we going to reconcile the need for privacy and the
promise of instant access to information? If paramedics
had access to medical records of accident victims they'd
be able to save more lives. If your cell phone is used to
call 911, you can be located within twenty feet by medical
emergency personnel or police. But who controls access to
those sources of information and how secure the database?

Eli Lilly, the maker of the anti-depressant drug called
Prozac, recently exposed the names of a group of people
who subscribe to an email reminder service they operate.
Take your pills today, and by-the-way, here's everyone
else on this list with you, we hope you all enjoy getting
to know each other. This incident is clear proof that
nobody can be trusted with personal information - yet.

No doubt laws will be passed, speeches will be made and
more personal information will be intercepted, abused
and exposed to public scrutiny. How do we fix this?
I haven't got a clue. I guess my wife was right though,
don't share info with anyone online unless you want to
spread that information around the world.

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July 29, 2001