This story on wired.com, about the difficulty of losing your identity and taking up another, is something I wrote about in How They Scored.
The characters are looking at the business possibilities of a proposed business named Dreedle, which would compile vast databases of consumer behavior; the narrator reflects on how such databases would make it difficult to disappear, as you used to be able to in the old days.
There were plenty of things about me I didn’t want rolled up into some online repository. One or two of these things I might confide to a lover — that I liked to watch a certain kind of porn, for example (though I wasn’t sure Meeghan was ready to know that). Another, less embarrassing detail I might write about on a blog — my appreciation of the Giants infielders, say, or my enthusiasm for Russian composers. Other things I wouldn’t mind mentioning in a phone call to my mother. But put them all together, combined with the records of everything I buy, books I read, music I listen to — no. It’s already creepy enough to see my house from space on Google Maps, to see on Amazon that people who live in my zip code read scads of self-help books…
And then there’s the American fantasy of disappearing. … I might merely want to start over. I love the idea that you can move to a big city or a small town and get lost. Isn’t that what hundreds of people did after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina? — claimed that all their papers were lost, whether or not it was true. Got new ID with a new name, moved to another state, faded into the woodwork.
You can still do that in America — barely. But with Dreedle, no way. That dead guy whose ID you stole probably liked completely different music, wore completely different clothes, had totally different jobs. Once I started buying Shostakovich CDs and had them delivered to a zip code the dead guy never lived in, a red flag would go up. A complete change in shopping habits combined with a change in address equals the probability of identity theft. That’s what it would be called. Not “starting over.”
This is just the kind of thing I wrote about in my book:
Microsoft ponders offline profiling of Web users
By John Letzing, MarketWatch
Last update: 7:02 p.m. EST Jan. 23, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Microsoft Corp. is developing a method of using personal data such as credit-card information to target Internet users with advertising once they connect to the Web, according to a patent application filed by the company.
In an application disclosed earlier this month, a Microsoft team including Chairman Bill Gates presents a method of collecting information about users’ “cell phones, geolocation systems, credit-card information” and other data sources to select and display “targeted advertising.”
The technology described in the patent application touches on a delicate issue for Microsoft and other online companies such as Google Inc.
Microsoft and its rivals have all sought to gather increasing amounts of personal information about Internet users to deliver advertisements more likely to draw attention. That’s because the companies generally earn revenue only when a user clicks on an ad.
Microsoft director of privacy strategy Brendon Lynch said patent applications don’t necessarily indicate product plans for the company. But if Microsoft does develop a product based on the new patent application, Lynch said it “will first be reviewed against our privacy standards to ensure that privacy is protected.”
Google is currently facing questions in Europe about its own collection of user data.
Bill Gates is listed as an inventor on the patent application, alongside members of various Microsoft research units.
The European Parliament held a public seminar Monday to discuss the privacy implications of technology used by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others.
“We put great effort into building privacy protections into our products and systems,” Google privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote in a blog post related to the seminar.
In addition, the European Commission is considering the approval of Google’s acquisition of online-advertising firm DoubleClick, a move that many say would unfairly expand Google’s store of user data.
In Microsoft’s patent application, the company describes a technology that can first better align search results with a users’ offline behavior. Then, according to the application, “an advertising component employs the user profile in connection with the delivery of an advertisement.”
Offline behavior can include credit-card information such as types of purchases and “payment history,” according to the application.
Data relayed by cell-phone towers can also be tapped to locate users, and “tailor search and advertising during online experiences so as to better interpret queries to search engines, to better target advertisements,” the application said.
In addition to cell-phone and credit-card use, other offline behavior that can be monitored includes TV-watching habits, the patent forms say.
“If the offline behavior indicates the user was watching a college football game … if the user goes online during or just after such activity, then an inference could be made that the user is interested in seeing more information about the game as well as being receptive to advertisements selling college-team memorabilia,” according to the application.
Gates is listed as an inventor on the patent application, alongside members of various Microsoft research units.
It increasingly has become common for Gates to be listed as an inventor on Microsoft’s patent applications, according to public filings. Gates, who co-founded the company in 1975, is expected to step back from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in July to focus more on philanthropy.
I have a Technorati Profile.
An American startup is paying people in India to sign up for its service so it can show it has 1000s of users.
Second full day in Chicago. I didn’t get much done yesterday; I was feeling kind of sleepy. I managed to go through a number of Christy’s comments, but I didn’t even finish them. Actually, Christy’s individual comments are not what I’m concerned about; most of them deal with small issues and are easily dealt with. What I’m concerned about is the rewriting I have to do, and yesterday I didn’t do any of it.
One of the scenes that needs reworking is the story about “Cara” in chapter 10. I based it entirely on C___, and I think it’s too close to reality. What I have is a French immigrant who wanted to be monogamous and I have put in all the intimate details of her sexuality. I need to change the former so I can keep the latter. It doesn’t matter that the character be a French immigrant, what matters are the compelling details of her body and her sexuality. Since I have a few hours free, I’ll try doing that now.
7:00 — I made it all the way through Christy’s comments, and I also rewrote the Cara scene so that it’s about a Porteño instead of a Parisienne. Now all I need to know is the Porteño equivalent of “Viens, viens!”
A.: If she was from Madrid I’d have no problem telling you.
Me: I know, but..
Together: I’ve/You’ve never been to Madrid.
Me: While I have been to Buenos Aires.
Another thing I need to rewrite is the opening scene. Christy said it seemed strange, that the guy would be rushing off while his hot girlfriend is begging him to do it one more time. Just shows she hasn’t lived with a guy.
I’m in a hotel in downtown Chicago, and will have a few days here to work on HOW THEY SCORED. It’s a version of the retreats I’ve taken in past years — almost always in December or right before or after New Year’s — to work on or finish books. The difference here is that I’m staying in the hotel room of A., who is in Chicago to attend a conference. …
Since I finished the first draft 12 days ago, I haven’t worked on the book at all, except for a couple of hours yesterday. Christmas intervened, and before that it was the tech manual project that refused to die, so that my initial plan of taking much of the week before Christmas to goof off and work on this book was a complete bust. It was a good thing I finished it on the 15th, because I sure didn’t get a chance to even look at it between the 15th and the 26th. Well, the break was good.
It occurs to me that one of the weaknesses of the book is that the whole theme of privacy and security is not integrated with the sex stuff at all. I guess if it were, it would be a really different book — it would be impossible to have all the sex scenes from a variety of perspectives wind up somehow being about security and privacy.
Still, I want to make the book as smart as possible. While I’m here — and I should have a good three days to work — one of the main things I want to do is polish and possibly enhance each sex scene, make them hotter and more pornographic, give them more of a wow factor like my previous books. Right now I think they risk seeming rather vanilla, and I don’t want to disappoint people who are familiar with my other work.
Sometimes instead of thinking about the content of the book, I think about what it means in my career. It will be my first published novel, and I’m keen to get the [erstwhile] publisher to classify it as fiction first and erotica second — if at all. I don’t want it to be pigeonholed. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if instead of fighting it, I shouldn’t just be embracing the fact that my genre work has succeeded, thanks in large part to the same publisher, where my other work has not. Plenty of writers make a career out of doing genre work; I shouldn’t look down on it. On the other hand, I really do want to write books of general interest.
I had a dream that I was at a place like Holden Village, the church camp that is mentioned in passing in How They Scored. It’s a Lutheran church camp but in my dream an Episcopal priest I know was there, offering armloads of peach pie to all comers — a dream of abundance and hospitality.
I visited Holden Village in real life three times, the longest for a six week stay which I recorded in the form of an edited journal I posted on my main website. While I was up there, I was working on my first (as yet unpublished) novel Make Nice.
In early November, Facebook’s 23-year-old C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg, rolled out an advertising program called Beacon. It would track users onto the sites of Facebook’s commercial partners — Coca-Cola, the N.B.A., The New York Times and Verizon, among others — and keep their friends posted about what they were doing and buying there.
Did it ever. A Massachusetts man bought a diamond ring for Christmas for his wife from overstock.com and saw his discounted purchase announced to 720 people in his online network. What if it hadn’t been for his wife? What if he had been buying acne cream? Pornography? A toupee? You could go on. Researchers at Computer Associates, an information-technology firm, discovered that Beacon was more invasive than announced. MoveOn.org started a petition movement against Beacon that rallied 75,000 Facebook subscribers. …
The Beacon fiasco gives a good outline of what future conflicts over the Internet will look like. Whether a system is opt-in or opt-out has an enormous influence on how people use it. He who controls the “default option” — the way a program runs if you don’t modify it — writes the rules. Online, it can be tempting to dodge the need to get assent for things that used to require it. This temptation is particularly strong in matters of privacy. For instance, the “default option” of the pre-Internet age was that it was wrong to read others’ mail. But Google now skims the letters of its Gmail subscribers, in hopes of better targeting them with ads, and the N.S.A. looks for terrorists not only in the traditional manner — getting warrants for individual wiretaps — but also by mining large telecommunications databases.
So it is with Facebook’s Beacon. We used to live in a world where if someone secretly followed you from store to store, recording your purchases, it would be considered impolite and even weird. Today, such an option can be redefined as “default” behavior.
There are two key elements to a profile. Most people tend to focus on the Big Brother data collection side, and that’s simply taking information about a person from different aspects of their private life: their medical records, their financial records, where they go online, what they put in e-mail, who they call — all that kind of information that can be put together to create a detailed profile of an individual.
But the second part — which I don’t think people think about very much but in many respects is becoming more important — is the algorithm that is put on top of that data and the decisions that are made [based on an analysis of the information]. That’s actually an area that EPIC is spending a lot more time on these days, because if you look at such questions as which banner ads an Internet user sees when they visit a Web site, or whether an airline passenger is pulled aside for secondary screening, what’s really happening is a type of profiling that involves not only the data collection, but also some decision-making process that treats one person very differently from another person. That’s also something that turns out to be secretive. Companies will not explain their proprietary algorithms for serving banner ads, nor will the Department of Homeland Security tell us why certain people are pulled aside for secondary screening and not others.
This prototype phone from Nokia would be able to track your health and other “conditions.” Apparently you strap on a sensor that monitors your vital signs, sends the data to the phone over a wireless signal, and then God knows what happens to the information.
This is just astonishing:
The next time you visit your doctor for your appointment and flip through the pages of the magazines kept in the reception room, you might not be aware of the fact that a watch is being kept on your reading habits using RFID. Mediamark Research & Intelligence and DJG Marketing have come together to use RFID for measuring magazine readership in public waiting rooms.
More here. RFID is the little bitty chip already used to track library books, merchandise, and in some localities, children.
I should totally finish the first draft today. I’m just not really up for it. As I just wrote on my blog, as part of several hours of work-avoidance:
I meant to finish the first draft of HOW THEY SCORED last weekend, but I stopped a couple of pages short. I didn’t want to rush into it, and — typical — I had to be somewhere in the early evening, so I cut my writing day short.
Then I thought I would be able to grab a few hours during the week, ideally on Monday, and finish. It was only a few pages. But instead I got utterly hammered at work. In my 12 years in the high tech industry, I don’t think I’ve ever been as snowed under as I was this week. In fact, I’m seriously considering going in to work on Sunday just to get a head start on the next week. …
Meanwhile, I read a little piece of this book I’m working on for the first time last night to a few people at a dinner. It was a very interesting experience. When you’re reading out loud you can instantly tell which sentences are well constructed and which sound awkward — which is why they tell you to always, always read your stuff out loud before considering it finished. It made me remember how, in my past experiences at LitCrawl (2006, 2005) I closely edited the piece I was about to read with a mind to how it would sound read out loud. I didn’t have the opportunity to do that last night, and it was good to be reminded of how important it is.
So on to the last few pages of this book, which I will subsequently spend as much time as I can rewriting.
Of course, I did not then immediately start writing; I didn’t even turn to this notes file. I did more internet time-wasting.
The small reading was at Christy’s, at an event she and her girlfriend intend to hold monthly: they serve a soup and bread supper and invite people to read a little something. Christy had already read the first two-thirds of my book, of course, and knew the passage I read: the bit about how Greg discovered Growler’s most interesting side effect. The two dykes at the party who were strangers to me seemed a little put off by the bukkake at the Glitter Gold Girls Club, and it was at that point I realized that I might have prepared people more in advance. Fortunately Christy’s enthusiasm overpowered any discomfort.
All right… I really must think about this thing and just finish it.
In the ending, I mean to have a nice bit about how Meeghan’s body is “home” for Hap, the narrator. However, this is a manifestly sentimental idea, and not made any less so because that feeling has been very real for me in the past with certain lovers. It has to be handled just right; otherwise it will sound stupid and shallow, not to mention fundamentally sexist and narcissistic.
I think one way to handle it is to show Meeghan is truly independent, that she has a life apart from Hap — something there is no hint of yet. Another is to inject a little bit of darkness at the end. It is, of course, stupid to think that your feeling of being truly “home” depends on being able to fuck someone in particular, since no matter how sincere the feeling is and how much both people want to maintain it, bodies are fragile and love, not to mention one’s feeling of being truly home, must ultimately depend on something more substantial.
OK, a walk to the café, then down to work.
1:09 pm — I actually begin working on the last section.
3:45 pm — Finished. 1600 words for the day. Grand total 85,293.