Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Music, toys, and plutonium - quick hits from the privacy front

Got a couple of posts in the old RSS folder today which set me to thinkin'. They were from all over the place, but each had privacy as a central theme.

First, the "music" in the headline: Some dude named "Pete" (no relation) wrote to the Boing-Boing kahunas with some interesting tidbits on Amazon's "DRM-free" music downloads. Turns out they might not be quite as DRM-free as one might hope. Apparently, Amazon has some proprietary code in the tagging of each track. The whole idea behind true "DRM-free" files is that there's nothing proprietary, and the purchaser can do whatever he/she wants with it. Comments in the post seem to indicate there's nothing untoward going on here, but just the fact that it's getting some play makes me a bit nervous.

It's little things like this which keep me from completely trusting those fine folks at Amazon.

And speaking of enormous corporations doing some things you might not a) be aware of, or b) like: When you go to Build-A-Bear Workshop to, er, build a bear, you get a "Birth Certificate" for your new stuffed buddy. What you may or may not notice, in your consumer-spending frenzy, is the amount of info you're asked to key into the little Birth Certificate kiosk in the store. Name, address, email, birth date, gender; all this and more gets plugged into the orange-and-purple Seusserrific terminals before your certificate is spat out. What, pray-tell, does Build-A-Bear do with all this pedophile-starter-kit info? Nothing serious, one would think - I don't confuse Build-A-Bear with the organs of the police state.

The point is kids, and parents, are getting numb to this disclosure of very personal info for the most mundane of reasons.

If I had a dime for every time my 10-year-old daughter handed over my email address to everythinggirl.com or cartoonnetwork.com or webkinz.com or any of the half-dozen other sites she wastes HOURS on, I'd have a sack-full of dimes, brother. I never even think about it, and neither, obviously, does she. Perhaps we should...

Lastly, Cory Doctorow's new column in The Guardian has to do with all that very personal info which has been harvested by means nefarious and less so, and its ultimate fate out there in the electronic ether. Doctorow compares it to nuclear waste, in the sense that its safekeeping is at least as important as that of the weapons-grade plutonium coming out of the world's fission plants. It's release into the wild would have ramifications not unlike the nuke-napping of a whole bunch of yummy strontium-90 - whole civilizations can be laid waste by unscrupulous use of either.

Some sobering reading for a Tuesday evening!

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