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You are losing your privacy on the Internet

I wrote before about the trend we’re now seeing on the Internet of centralizing services where managing user data (private, behavioral, content etc.) is involved. In that article I also mentioned how the companies offering those kinds of services will increasingly encourage users to give them and trust them with more and more of their data. Even, and indeed especially, their personal data. In that article I also mentioned why they would want to do this, and I mentioned the very terrible consequences for users and the Internet in the future. Among many more, those consequences include the loss of privacy, the loss of control over (personal) information and content and ultimately the loss of freedom.

I mentioned how this was one of the reasons why there is now a big battle going on against Peer to Peer (P2P) applications on the Internet. The problem is that these applications guarantee freedom on the Internet, and put control in the hands of the users by design. This is ofcourse a problem for those who want to control everything on the Internet. And they also know that it can only get worse, since what we have now are merely what you can call the first generation of P2P software. Their power will only increase in the future.

We’ve recently seen how Google, who already have their own video service, have bought YouTube, one of the most popular video services on the Internet. Again you can see the centralization that is going on. It’s a standard theme you will continue to notice from now on: Consolidate, Centralize and Control. It is good to see at least one user posting the following reaction to that article above:

YouTube will operate independently???
No such thing!!!.

I love Google but I have a real problem with so many smaller companies being absorbed by larger ones. Especially when we are talking about “broadcast communication”.

Larger communications companies are quickly snatching up smaller ones. Places that used to be the playground of small startup bands and local talent that once had a chance to become known. Used to be a time once local talent made a name for itself, it was then discovered by local radio stations, then played across the country if they were good enough. With so many stations being absorbed by larger ones, a few people can simply say, “WE DON’T WANT THAT GROUP PLAYED” and no one will ever know you exist.

The new model seems to be to drain all they can from those groups they can reap the most income from. Groups that could impact that investment are quickly snuffed out by a single voice.

That’s not independent.

With this purchase by Google, a further consolidation of voices and talent will come under the auspices of a larger, publically traded and increasingly political industry. FCC, RIAA to name a few are just a few of the controlling interests that determine exactly how independent YOUTUBE will be. That means fewer and fewer people will determine what we get to enjoy on the net, not more.

That’s not independent.


If that sounds far fetched to you, you’re in for major surprises in the future. I’ve written many articles talking about censorship by Google in the past already. This will also apply to the newly acquired YouTube. This is the same thing that has also happened to the mainstream media in the US a long time ago. Many people in the US still think there is a large variety of news corporations to choose from today, when the simple fact is, that all of those mainstream media corporations are owned by about 4-5 big corporations. You are given the illusion of choice and variety, when there is in fact not that much choice in reality. And if you watch two documentaries called “Orwell rolls in his grave” and “Outfoxed”, you will see how a small group of people decide what all the media companies they own around the world will report, and how they should do it.

At this point I should also mention that this is not only happening on the Internet, but also with print media. It has recently been reported that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been funding the purchase of independent newspapers around the US:

The print medium seems destined to survive only as boutique entities, much like the vinyl record form kept alive by devoted musicians and listeners.

And a major force driving print to museum-piece status: The electronic products of software colossus Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people ).

So it may strike some as ironic that the philanthropy built by Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates has invested in one of the most threatened of print forms: newspapers.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has reportedly pumped funds into privately held MediaNews Group, the entity that acquired four of the papers sold by publisher McClatchy (nyse: MNI – news – people ).

MediaNews, which owns papers from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains to the Great Lakes, snatched up The Contra Costa Times and the venerable San Jose Mercury News, rendering itself the Bay Area’s preeminent tabloid presence. Media giant Hearst bought the former KR titles Monterey County Herald and St. Paul Pioneer Press from McClatchy, but will now hand them to MediaNews — in exchange for a stake in the latter’s business beyond the San Francisco/Oakland area.

The Gates Foundation, together with other investors including General Electric Capital (nyse: GEC – news – people ), loaned some $350 million to MediaNews for the publication purchase.

Why would they want to buy what is remaining of the independent print media? Again the answer is simple: Consolidate, Centralize and Control. Also take note of the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation here. Aren’t they supposed to be doing charity work? Look for a more detailed article on them, Bill Gates and Microsoft in the near future on this website.

Anyway, the reason why I mention the above, is to give you some background information on what is going on before I move on to the privacy issue. I wanted to illustrate that there really is an ongoing trend of centralization and control, and as you saw, it is not only on the Internet.

In a previous article, I mentioned that users should be more and more concerned with their privacy and trusting all those online services with their data. I also mentioned that those companies will increasingly encourage users to trust them with even more of their personal data. And guess what? Right on schedule, Microsoft released their privacy guidelines which are basically to encourage users to trust them with their (personal) data and information:

Microsoft Corp. is preparing to release privacy guidelines based on its own internal practices in hopes of getting companies to adopt more cohesive standards for safeguarding people’s personal information.

Microsoft will issue the hefty document Thursday, urging commonsense practices such as clearly telling customers why a company collects personally identifiable information like e-mail addresses or phone numbers.

The move comes as more people are entrusting technology companies with their communications, digital photos, business documents and other data, raising concerns about how personal information might be amassed and used. Microsoft and other companies need to make sure consumers trust them, or they risk losing that business.

In a true Orwellian way, Microsoft is actually expecting users to protect their privacy by giving away their private information to these corporations and trusting them with it. So essentially they are saying: “Protect your privacy by disclosing your private info to us. And we have good reasons for why you should do that, you see.” They are expecting people to trust those same corporations with their private data, that have a history of disclosing that private data as I have shown in another article with examples.

Also noteworthy:

Analysts credit Microsoft with having a major change of heart about privacy about five years ago, following backlash over Hailstorm, a product that sought to store all sorts of personal information under one logon, so people could more easily access accounts and products online. The product, now called Passport, was scaled back considerably after people balked at leaving all their information in the hands of just one company.

The reality is that now, while people may think they are leaving their information in the hands of various different companies, the truth is that many of those companies are property of, and/or being controlled by, the same organization or people. For example, most people in the future might think that YouTube and Google Video are two different video services, while not realizing they are both owned by the same people. Similarly, as I mentioned before, most people today think they have a lot of choice when it comes to the media, while not realizing that they are all being controlled and owned by about 4-5 big corporations. The illusion of choice is being created, while in reality, there is very little or none at all.

And it’s not just your privacy that is at stake, like I said in the beginning, but also your freedom. Just like I said would happen, YouTube recently erased 29,549 clips based on demand from Japanese media. And while the reasons for doing it may seem just, remember that there are a lot of examples where this is not the case, for example when the Chinese government demanded taking down information that was damaging to them, which is basically censorship. If they one day demand removal of videos from YouTube because it contains information they don’t want people to see, you can bet YouTube will also be deleting them. If you don’t believe me yet, check out this recent article:

Under legislation passed in Chongqing municipality, people who post “defamatory comments or remarks, launch personal attacks or seek to damage reputations online” will receive a warning or be fined between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan, the China Daily said.

“Those whose rumors cause serious consequences could be detained for five days or even more,” the paper said.

The legislation also includes fines of 3,000 to 15,000 yuan for “organizations distributing defamatory material”, the paper said.

The report comes after a Chinese court jailed dissident writer Guo Qizhen for four years on Tuesday for inciting subversion over anti-government essays he posted online.

The regulations also follow a crackdown on amateur online films that mock officially approved culture.

See that? You can bet your life on the fact that if they have to, they’ll take this crackdown of amateur online films to YouTube and Google Video. And just like Google has shown in the past, they will obey the Chinese government, willingly assist them with censorship, and take down the content. And again, not only Google has done this in the past, but also Microsoft and Yahoo. And it’s not just the Chinese government that can do this, but we’ve recently also seen the US government and Brazilian government demanding private user information from these corporations.

These are good examples of what these corporations will be capable of doing in the future, and how you cannot possibly hope to ever trust them with any of your data.

Consider yourself warned.


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » Google ‘in bed’ with CIA (01/11/2006)
  2. Karel Donk » Archive » Be careful with where you get your information from! (03/02/2007)


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