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Editor's Note: High-Tech Masquerades Perversion as Science

Nov 15, 2008, 00:02 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

I spend a fair bit of time being baffled by humanity. You'd think that for as many years as I've been creaking around on this planet I'd have become accustomed to the depths to which some people so readily sink. Indeed, even dive into enthusiastically. But a lot of things still have shaking my head in wonderment. The biggest one is the tech industry's enthusiastic glee for Peeping Tom-ery. It's like a perversion, an insatiable, pathological need to snoop and pry where, according to ordinary courtesy and respect, they have no business going.

Marketers have insatiable appetites for our personal data, and their excuse for tracking our movements across the Web and capturing and analyzing every search term and mouse click is "targeted ads that people will like, instead of complain about!" But for some odd reason it never ever occurs to them to try different, less-objectionable approaches. Like not getting in our faces every waking moment, and not sneaking around behind our backs. Oh, some claim that their data are anonymized after a period of time. How about collecting it in a way that doesn't require a separate sanitizing step? If they even do, which I doubt, or they sanitize it after using and abusing it until its usefulness is exhausted.

If remote snooping were not so easy, would Google's Page and Brin sneak around with cameras, peeping into our windows and photographing our private moments? Of course not, you laugh. Uh huh. So what's with Street View and the roaming vehicle-mounted spy cameras? I'm not a brainiac like Page and Brin, but I can sure tell the difference between seeing something with my eyes, and photographing it, plastering it on the Internet for anyone to see and misuse, recording it for posterity, and profiting from it without giving a dime back to the people being bought and sold without their consent or knowledge.

Then there is the ever-popular Big Brother. There was an interesting article posted today on LT, ImageStream: Who Needs to Read Encrypted Traffic?. It says:

"...equipment makers are urging ISPs to determine the content and context of every packet traversing their network, much to the dismay of privacy advocates...using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) in an effort to classify encrypted packets requires a powerful and expensive box, one that every equipment maker would love to sell, but that many ISPs don't want to buy."
It doesn't say why they don't want to buy these super-duper-snooper boxes; cost? Complexity? I rather doubt it has anything to do with basic respect for privacy, though I would love to be wrong about that. Big Brother comes up with the lamest excuses imaginable to justify recording, monitoring, and controlling every bit that flows over the Internet: thinkofthechildren, evil pirates, bandwidth caps, you name it-- and they're not even embarrassed.

But ImageStream takes a different approach to bandwidth caps at least, and doesn't trot out a bunch of silly excuses for unfettered snooping. I have no idea if their product works well or not, what I like is their sensible approach:

"Utter advocates a system his company has come up with that uses some simple open source concepts to preserve user privacy. He calls this system Per User Fair Queuing (PUFQ)...

"Because the system is just measuring bandwidth, and is not determining the content of every packet, its load on your routers will be minimal."

"just measuring bandwidth." Can it be that all those titans of industry never heard of traffic-shaping with tc or Wondershaper? There has never been a need to do deep-packet inspection for mere bandwidth management. Does anyone in big business tell the truth?

Non-Windows users lead sheltered lives; they are not subject to the endless tsunamis of adware and spyware that Windows users enjoy so much. It's this tolerance of such abuses that makes me despair for humanity-- is it because it's more abstract than crowds of live humans keeping them under constant surveillance? Would they tolerate strangers snooping in their closets, peeking in their underwear, noting and recording every private act? I used to think the answer was "No, of course not!" but any more I wonder.

Resources

Privacy Today: A Review of Current Issues
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Free as in Freedom