Thinking Past the Edges of My Skin

June 9, 2011 by
Filed under: Internet Life and Humanity 

I was watching a show last night on the Science Channel titled “Through The Wormhole“. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, the show is an excellent low-impact introduction to some of the more dicey concepts of modern science. They tackle subjects primarily on the “edges” and have interviews and cameos from names most folks have never heard of, but they do a very reasonable job of delving deeper into these otherwise mystical disciplines. In my opinion, Morgan Freeman and their writing/production staff do a very excellent job teaching and satisfying the human curiosity. But …

Human Imagination Is So Limited

The show I was watching dealt with the various competing theories on the origins of the Universe. There’s the Big Bang Theory and there’s Membrane (AKA “Brane”) Theory, and they tend to oppose each other in fundamental ways. But it struck me as rather obvious that both theories, despite their attempts to explain the limitless nature of the Universe, suffered one serious shortcoming … they were rooted in this painfully limited perspective.

The Big Bang Theory says that some number of billion years ago there was this one tiny ball of everything … and then it went BANG! (In a really big way of course.) Thus was born the entire Universe. The Brane Theory says that there’s two membranes that hold everything and every so often they bump into each other, go BANG! and then expand away from each other until they turn around and do it all again. These are really over-simplified simplifications of the real theories but for my purposes here today, they’ll do.

Where both these models fall woefully short is … they consist of ONE copy of the model that “Makes It All Work”. In the Big Bang Theory, there was this ONE ball of everything. In the Brane Theory, there’s two membranes in ONE pair. Hey! Astrophysicists! The Universe is Infinite! It doesn’t matter which one is right, the point you guys are missing is … there’s an infinite number of “balls of everything” and/or “membranes of everything”. Now get your heads around that concept and THEN figure it out from there. (*sigh* It’s so difficult having to teach these college boys about reality .. y’know?)

Thinking In Bigger Ways About Privacy

At any rate, astrophysics isn’t my reason for blogging today. Actually I’m really upset by a change recently announced by one of the “Bad Boys” of the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg and his team of Digital Nazis at Facebook.

“Whoa! Darrius! Nazis?!?”

Yeah, Nazis … and here’s why I say that. Mr. Zuckerberg has once again proven that the only consideration he is capable of offering is the one that ends right at the edges of his own skin. He has chosen to provide a technological service (namely facial recognition) on an Opt-Out basis that pulls yet another layer off the protections for privacy that the rest of humanity expects to maintain. I use the term “Nazi” in this context to indicate that Zuckerberg and his team have zero respect and zero consideration for what anyone else might want or desire, and thus by their demonstrated lack of compassion or forethought are subjecting a massive segment of the world’s population to danger and exposure that no one should be allowed to wield. Hitler did it with his laws demanding that the Jewish residents of Germany self-identify so they could be ridiculed and assaulted (and murdered), and now Zuckerberg does the same to millions of people around the world with his facial recognition technology on a VERY grand scale.

But It’s Only My Friends!

I hear you saying that, and honestly it sounds like a reasonable cop-out … at first. But this is where I tie in the whole “human imagination is so limited” theme from the top. You are ALLOWED to see the computer’s determination of the pictures you upload that have faces of people that are your friends. But does the computer say “Oh gosh, the person that uploaded this picture doesn’t know that face, so I won’t try and recognize it”? Oh HELL no! It hasn’t a clue who you know and don’t know. It doesn’t know if the waiter in back of your birthday pictures at the local Denny’s is someone you know or not. All it knows is “that’s a human face” and furthermore “I’ve seen that face before, so I’ll put a name to it.”

After it figures out the name for that face, that is when it checks to see if that name is registered on Facebook, is listed in your “Friends” and then it “offers” to tag the face with that name. But here’s the absolutely diabolical part of the process … it ALREADY KNOWS who that waiter is. That face in the background of someone you didn’t even realize was in the picture is scanned, compared, recognized and logged by Facebook’s computers. Once that data is in their database, do you honestly believe they’re going to purge it forever? (And if you do believe that, please send me your phone number because I have some scams … errr deals that I want to sell to you.)

Jumping Deeper Into The Cesspool

My example above is pretty tame; it’s just some nondescript waiter who probably doesn’t care that people see him at work. But let’s take another example and you’ll start to see the real problem here.

You work for a top-flight company earning a pretty nice salary. You are well respected in your company and have a good reputation with the management. One day you’re sitting at lunch at the local Denny’s and the president of your employer’s primary competitor comes over and sits down. It’s not THAT unusual because there isn’t a whole lot of enmity between the two companies and besides, you are both members of the same church. He chats for a second, mentions the upcoming social on Sunday, then gets up and leaves. No sweat, no worries … right? Wrong!

What you did NOT know was that during the time he was sitting there, the family celebrating their daughter’s Sweet 16 Party at the big table in the center of the restaurant took a bunch of pictures. As it turns out, you and the competitor’s president were captured in several of those … in the background but your faces are clearly visible. Not really caring about “those people in the background”, the family posts those pictures on Mom’s Facebook page and within seconds the Facebook computer has figured out who you are and who the other guy is and connected your names to those photos. With me so far?

Two months later your employer is considering you for a promotion. Their Security Manager contacts Facebook and, for a price, purchases all photos they have on file with you in them. (Do you REALLY want to bet me Mark Zuckerberg WON’T sell them?? Seriously? That man would sell his mother if there was profit in it … and besides he doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself. Remember?!?) What pictures does your employer’s Security Manager get? The ones of you holding clandestine lunchtime meetings with the president of the competition. Clearly you are feeding insider info to them. So rather than promoted, you are now … FIRED! (Probably getting sued too.) By the time you get this cleared up, your life is ruined, your professional reputation is destroyed, and not even the competition will hire you on. Face it, you’re toast.

And Mark Zuckerberg is richer for the experience and not the least bit at fault … right?

First Mudball Down the Slippery Slope

I will grant you, the above scenario is a bit “out there”. But it’s not that unimaginable either. And it’s not the only scenario one can think up where the outcome will lead to personal destruction on a massive scale. It doesn’t even involve physical harm to you or anyone else either, but those scenarios are just as likely. (Imagine the abused wife that has finally escaped her abuser, only to have him find her from a facial recognized photo on Facebook then tracks her down and kills her.)

Facebook defends themselves by claiming “that information will not be available to outside parties.” Yeah, right. Just like the private and personal information for Sony’s customers was “not available” either. Or the email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers of people that were targeted by the mass mailing company not long ago. Data breaches happen every day. Pirates and crackers waste no amount of effort to pry loose private data from Internet-hosted data clouds. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that I am 1000% positive Zuckerberg et al will wind up selling the tagged photos complete with every name to anyone he wants, citing his right to use that information as he sees fit because “it says so in our Terms of Service.”

But as soon as one breach pops loose a photo with names attached, as soon as that first dollar turns over into Zuckerberg’s pocket and someone lays their hands on a picture of someone they should not ever have had, that will be the first mudball rolling down a very slippery and dangerous slope … and we all stand at the bottom praying the worst won’t happen.

Call me a pessimist if you want, but I know it will happen. It’s just a matter of time … and in Zuckerberg’s case, profit.


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