A long time ago I read an article about some dangerous psychological studies in the 70’s. It’s funny to think that, at that time, things that we don’t even consider doing, were acceptable.
Can you imagine yourself with a periscope counting the seconds some truck drivers take to piss in a public toilet? Or pretending to rape a girl and risk getting shot (especially in the US)? It’s not just ethically incorrect, it’s dangerous!
Recently, I read an article about some students monitoring 350 million mobile calls just to figure out if the callee’d call you back. Not only in the 70’s that would be nonsense, but people would explode in rage, as it’d be just enough to prove all conspiracy theories at that time (not to mention the cold war).
This is not the first research using “unnamed” data from carriers or websites, nor will be the last. I myself proposed something similar to Yahoo! when I worked there to get the trends and act on the average (rather than tag individuals), and I see now that it’s becoming acceptable to allow research groups to openly read entire databases that before was considered private.
I don’t particularly dislike such type of research, especially when they’re done by universities, but the slight paranoia feeling creep up my spine sometimes. I guess that’s one of the issues that is dividing people into two very distinctive groups: those that ignore completely the privacy for the sake of comfort, and those that ignore comfort for the sake of privacy.
I am in between the two groups, but I can’t say I’m exactly average. I think I’m an extremist on both sides. I don’t mind storing my private emails on Google but I disable all Facebook add-ons and restrict access to all my personal data. I pay everything on the internet with my credit-card but I’ll refuse to the end of my days to use the biometric passport or iris recognition at airports.
There is no logic, really, it’s just the kind of thing you stick with. It is true that governments have more power to dig your data when they want, while Amazon will probably only have my credit-card number. But it’s also true that no government in the world can dig everyone’s data all the time, so it’s pretty improbable that someone is monitoring how many times I cross the Heathrow border.
In the end, only one thing makes out as logic in the whole scene: during the recent years, it was far more likely the government loosing all banking details of everyone in the country than some hacker invading Amazon to get my credit-card. Maybe that’s what’s keeping me from accepting IDs and biometric passports… or maybe I never will…