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Okay.  Let’s try this again.  There are still a bunch of people pissing and moaning about Google Buzz.  What this circumstance tells me is that there are far too many people out there using the internet who don’t know squat about the internet.  So let’s give it another shot.

First, go read this web page.

Got it so far?  Good.  The important things to remember here is that the internet is NOT a large building somewhere in the midwest that can be seized and controlled by the government (although some governments have tried), and that the internet itself is kind of stupid.  However, the stupidity of the internet should not lead us to believe that web sites and/or servers are stupid.  They are not.  Some of them are quite smart, actually.  And your computer doesn’t see any need to keep secrets from them.

Let me repeat that:  Your computer does not see any reason to keep secrets from any other computer. As stated in a previous post, every time your computer connects to another computer (which includes every time you visit a web site), they communicate with each other.  This means they tell each other about themselves.  And the first thing they tell each other is their respective IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.  IP addresses are uniquely identifiable and traceable.  That’s how some websites know where you are.  IP addresses are so individual and identifiable that it has been argued in court whether they are ‘Personally Identifiable Information’ (like your street address).  The communication between computers is also how some websites know what operating system you’re using and what browser you’re viewing their pages through.

This is why there is a general lack of anonymity on the internet (it can be achieved, but you have to really know what you’re doing).  Computers are intensely open and honest.  And please don’t confuse anonymity with privacy.  I’m sure you’ve heard of a ‘Right To Privacy’, but no one’s ever heard of a ‘Right To Anonymity’.  Think about that.

I have often compared the internet to America’s old west.  Like the old west, the internet is largely a lawless place.  There is some level of security, but it is easily broken.  There are gunslingers (of a sort) wandering about – some are good guys, some are bad guys – and you should choose whom you trust with extreme care.  The only real regulation in place is a form of social contract, but it is still in its infancy and is therefore quite fragile.

In other words:  There is no authority on the internet.

I cannot stress this point enough.  We are all used to living in a society that has some form of governing body with machinery in place to enforce their authority.  The internet has no government, nor does it have any police.  This means that it is up to us – individually – to protect ourselves.

Citizens of the United States of America have a certain amount of rights.  One of them is a right to privacy (at least, I think we do.  It may have been one of the rights erased by Bush/Cheney while most of America looked on and cheered).  This means that our privacy is protected within the bounds of the United States of America. Logically, this protection extends to anywhere the United States of America has jurisdiction, or at least enough political clout to throw some weight around.  And I’m here to tell you, boys and girls, that the internet is not such a place.  Your government (be it the U.S.A. or otherwise) has no enforceable authority here.  They cannot protect you – especially not from yourself.

I’ll put this as simply as I can:  Your rights – to privacy or otherwise – stop at your modem.


So I got the Buzz in my Gmail, and my first thought was pretty much the same first thought I had when I got the Wave.  I immediately realized that people were not going to realize that Buzz is a public venue.  So I Buzzed a Buzz about this, and even went so far as to Tweet a Tweet on the subject.  Then I pretty much just forgot about it.

But this morning, I saw a Tweet that linked to this blog post, (see below) detailing a person’s issues with Buzz.  Go ahead – follow the link and read the post.  I’ll wait.

Read it?  Good.  Now go back and read it again, only this time, instead of thinking of the author as a victim, think of the author as computer user in the new millenium.  I’ll wait again.

Done?  Okay – let’s look at the scorecard, shall we?

First off, I don’t subscribe to the idea that victim-hood earns anybody any sort of preferential treatment, but in this case I’ll make an exception:  +100 points.
Next, for confusing privacy with anonymity:  -50 stupid points.
For failing to read terms of agreement and privacy statements but bitching about them anyway:  -50 stupid points.
For thinking the internet is an anonymous place:  -50 stupid points.
For thinking you could remain anonymous while blogging:  -50 stupid points.
For having your abusive ex-husband in your Gmail contacts:  Okay, this one is beyond stupid.  I see this happening one of two ways:  either the author is still sending e-mail to the abusive ex, or the author failed to change e-mail address after getting rid of abusive ex.  In either case, we’re looking at something like -1,000 stupid points.
For bitching at Google for failing to protect your anonymity when you yourself have been actively working in the opposite direction:  -100 stupid points.

So our grand total is -1,200 stupid points.  Congratulations – you’re stupid!

I mean – really.  Can we use our brains just a little here, folks?  I feel for the author.  I really do.  I feel for all victims, and I believe that in the case of rapists, the logical thing to say is:  “Bailiff – plug in the chair.”  But Google did not victimize the author, and the author’s anger toward Google is inappropriate and misplaced.  If anything, we should be thanking Google.  Buzz is serving as a timely reminder of the realities of the internet, realities that often escape the modern social-networker and/or blogger.  Let’s review:

The internet is a public place.
There is no anonymity on the internet.  I cannot stress this one enough.  Every time you go online, your computer is talking to other computers AND THEY ARE EXCHANGING INFORMATION.  Haven’t you ever noticed how many websites know where you live, despite the fact that you never told them?  That’s because your computer did tell them.
Don’t ever send anything over the internet unless you’re willing to share it with the world.  Seriously.  While there IS some level of privacy on the internet, it can rather easily be invaded (just like in the real world).
Privacy and anonymity are not the same thing.  And almost no one promises to protect your anonymity online.

All I’m saying is that you should have some idea what the internet IS before you start playing with it.  And don’t bitch at Google because you approached the internet with incorrect assumptions.

And 50 bonus points if you get the reference in the title of this post.


Update: Looks like somebody finally figured out a thing or two about the internet and privacy.  The blog linked to above is now inaccessible.  A smart move, methinks.  If you want to read the text of the original post, it can be found here.


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February 2010