Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Cost of Privacy

Billboard at 2019 CES

Computer scientists tend to obsess about privacy and we've had a privacy/security debate for decades now. But now machine learning has really given us a whole new spin on what privacy protects and takes away.

I take an open approach and basically allow Google to know everything about my life. Google knows where I've been--sometimes my Pixel asks me which store in a shopping center I visited and I give up that info. Google knows who I communicate with, what websites I visit, what music and movies I listen to and watch, all my photos, what temperature makes me comfortable and so on.

What do I get? A Google ecosystem that knows me sometimes better than I know myself. Google works best when it learns and integrates. I get asked to download maps for trips Google knows I'm about to take. I have Google assistant throughout my house, in my phone, in my car and it tailor answers and sometimes even the questions that I need answers to. If anything I wish there was further integration, like Google Voice should ring my office phone only when I'm in the office.

Georgia Tech now forces us to use Microsoft Exchange for email. Outlook is not a bad email program but its capabilities, especially for search, does not work as well and think of all that unused knowledge.

I trust Google to keep my information safe, with a random password and 2-factor encryption and even if someone would manage to break in they would find I'm a pretty boring person with an unhealthy obsession of opera (the musical form not the browser).

Doesn't work for everyone and companies should make it easy to keep your info secure. But I say go use your machine learning on me and find ways to make my life easier and more fun, and sure send me some targeted ads as payment. The Internets will find a way to discover you anyway, might as well take advantage. 


  1. You are probably not aware of it, but already by writing this post stating that you have nothing to hide, you might put others at a disadvantage. A couple of years back when I was preparing a grant proposal, I was told that I should remove my family status from my CV, because being married with kids makes it more likely that I'm heterosexual, and some homophobic referee might prioritize me because of that. Imagine what kind of weapon these leaks give to such people.

    ps. Have you seen this P=NP proof? ;)

  2. Have you ever been to a super market just to buy one bottle of milk and you end up buying a ton of staff that you don’t really need but you buy them because they look good or cheap or their promotion was too good to ignore?
    The same thing can happen when intelligent assistants that have just the right knowledge about your character enter your everyday life. Their helpful tips may lead you to do things that you don’t really want to do. You may easily end up following good advices that look rational and shape your decisions but they are not really your decisions but a machine’s decisions which knows who you are, how you think and how to persuade you. All these may not be parts of some mind control conspiracy, it is not necessary to be a conspiracy, it may just be an overwhelming technology that intrudes your life in an addictive way. I think it is better to use technology as a tool and not as an advisor and give away the information that serves you best, not everything.

    ps. I like targeted ads because there are times that help me discover products that I am not aware of but I don’t like ML to go further than that.