Space Ramblings

Privacy and its Discontents

The media gets plenty of whacks, most of them deserved. It’s loud, sensationalistic, pageviews driven and silly. But…

I just reamed an ITN producer who emailed me this clip about Google seeking a patent for using background noise in audible search requests and wanted to talk to me “off the record” (why he’d offer that, I don’t know; bad reporters’ reflex) to find out what “worries” I had about privacy and security. Note well that he didn’t ask me what I thought of the technology — whether I thought it was good or bad, how I thought it could be used positively or negatively, what its potential is. No, he showed his bias clearly by asking me to tell him what was wrong with it. Is that how a journalist should operate?

That comes from Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine.

google privacyThe actual problem here is Big Company Applies for Patent on Something story. And it’s just not a story. Especially not at Google, where at least in the past, employees pursued all sorts of random projects. Until Google starts using it or announces plans to deploy it, it is not a story.

A similar panic was touched off by Sony’s in-game ads. Companies want technological options. Whether they’re going to use them or not. Is there a useful application for background noise? In 1962 you might think background noise can be used for location, but locations today can be used for locations.

But Jarvis is wrong for another reason. It’s natural for reporters to want an angle on a story. A story about a Google technology with privacy implications is going to lead them to look for people worried about privacy. Having a critical angle on a technology like that is not wrong. It’s not even bias. Bias can only be seen in the final article, not in looking for someone with concerns about the implications of a technology.

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