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2/4/00 Feeding the fears of the uneducated

Jumping on the bandwagon, ABC News just aired a report on the Evils of the Internet. Their complaint was that posts made in online BBSes were trackable back to you. As an example, they tracked a woman who had breast cancer through the rest of her life, about an alcoholic friend she had made other posts about, and back to her 'for sale' house.

There are two issues here, feeding the paranoia. Number one, is identity, and the other is private vs. public info.

What this comes dow to is this: The ABC news article erroneously calls her entries her "private thoughts," but unless they were put in a public place, they could not have been found. When the woman created the posts, did she want her identity known? The answer is an overwhelming yes. Without the identity-tag on the posts, she couldn't be tracked. The only way that information could be there is because she typed it. End of story. Referring back to my homunculus concept of online identity, this is a perfect example of poor application of online identity resources. Logically, if her medical history was such a private issue, she should not have used her real name, and she should have used either a dummy email address or created a temporary one just for the purpose of responding to email regarding those posts. The other places that messages were left should equally have been hidden this way; whenever activities are not intended to be attached to other activities, a new aspect of the homulnculus must be created. This is the only way to keep the balance in the battle against the information seekers and the private individual.

Identity is the easy issue. Concealing your identity online consists of a few easy steps to take while giving the information out. You don't need PGP or any other privacy-protecting software to disconect one online presence from another.

The more difficult issue is the concept of privacy. I'm on the wrong end of this issue, compared to my peers on the internet. I believe wiretapping should be legal. I'm a fan of the idea that if you're doing something wrong, you should be caught. If something is private, it should not be said. There are plenty of opportunities to conceal your identity without limiting everyone else's ability to receive and record information.

If the woman in the example was so concerned about who may find out about her medical condition, then she should either have not said it, or concealed her identity. Did she want the public to know about it? Yes; she wrote it, she posted it, and she understood the concept of the public BBS. How is it suddenly an issue if you can find her via that information? There is a horrible loss of accountability in the United States at this time. Freedom of Speech is believed to be an all-encompassing permission to say anything you want, without consequences for your actions. It does not apply only to the flag-burners. The AOL user who made an online threat towards a Columbine student was arrested, and did not believe that he should be held accountable for his actions. This goes on down to people, like this woman, who provide information freely but do not believe that the information should be attributed to them.

The Freedom of Information that people fight for these days is not meant to be completely free. The people after freedom of information retract their demands when it turns out that it's _their_ information on the line. They think the menial parts of their life are their own business, and do their best to conceal them.

It's absurd to consider the idea that people are obsessed with whom may be tracking their toilet paper puchases or watching their movements on the internet. It borders on obsessive-compulsive. They think that the world around them has a reason to follow them around, monitoring their every move. Is is a secret that they bought 3 boxes of Kleenex yesterday, or that two weeks ago they bought a Playboy at the gas station? How about the dissemination of the data regarding their waistline, and the fact that it's been increasing steadily for the past 5 years? Are these facts untrue?

The answer is, no, the data being kept on people is not untrue. The people tracking the information have money at stake over the truthfulness of the information they are collecting. From innumerable different tangents, we are all being tracked in some way. Even the odometer in your car tracks you -- it counts away, endlessly, the miles you drive, unerringly flipping the tenths of miles away. Those miles were driven, whether the driver likes it or not. It is an indicator of the age of the vehicle, and it will be taken into consideration in the future. The insurance company reads the post made by the woman in the example above, and raises her rates over her admission of the health problem. They'd be completely justified, because that information is an accurate indicator of the woman's health. If they did not already know it, then there was concealment on her part. Should that information be concealed from the insurance company? Of course not. Their business is directly affected by the health issues of their customers. The same goes for doctors, dentists, tailors, auto mechanics, and so forth. The details of a person's life are the bread and butter of the service-industry economy that has been the Shangri-La that America has been striving for year after year. Once upon a time, your health was gauged by a question from the doctor: "how have you been feeling lately? What is bothering you? where does it hurt?" The information gained was given by the customer themselves. Today, constant information is being taken at all times, and a doctor may be able to check an extensive medical history covering many years and many other doctors. A car mechanic would ask "what kind of sound was it making?", but today they plug in a high-tech piece of machinery which collects the data from multiple sensors, and makes a diagnosis based on actual data, rather than conjecture gained from the non-mechanic driver. The concealment of personal information is the same reason that freedom of information is not complete today. Do no misunderstand me -- my homunculus model does not _conceal_ any information. All it does is coordinate the collection of information. When a homunculus identity is working properly, enormous amounts of information are being collected from the individual; the purpose of the homunculus is to change the nametag on each piece of info, and point it to a superset of the individual. The information collected is not false. It just cannot be tracked to the individual by indirect means. Once the information has been collected, it points directly to an interface -- an email address, BBS account, mailing address -- where the user can be contacted, rather than pointing to a chain of other pieces of information which tie the user down. The ABC news did make the point that concealment of information and identity does make it easy for a criminal to conceal themselves. That's why freedom of information is needed, and the reason that people with histories of child molestation are announced to neighborhoods. The simple, uneducated solution for this problem is not the right one. By giving everyone the ability to isolate themselves from the information-collection going on around them only creates cracks and faults in the system that they are working within. By taking steps to coordinate the information collection, freedom of information can dill be had without sacrificing the individual themselves. The woman in the example was uneducated and inexperienced, and it has been demonstrated how that can cause a bad experience. I do not know how the process of creating a homunculus can be taught to brand-new users, since it's a user-specific experience. It's best created through trial-and-error, but new users need to understand that limiting access to information is not an excuse to act irresponsibly with your personal data. The online experience can only be had via a wide proliferation of data collection and data use, and protecting newbies from their own ignorance is not a solution for anything.

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