Monday, December 26, 2005

Spam et all...

I came across this discussion on /. and this got me thinking.

Is there such a thing as 'too paranoid about privacy'? There are some interesting posts on /. and one of the posts that caught my eye was 'once you forego some privacy it's a slippery slope till you have none.' This is really an interesting thought.

But the point I want to make is not all that entirely related to the above. At some point in the discussion, people start talking about giving out fake information to all those companies that want your information for say 'verification'. This triggered my thoughts and brought some really old information to the forefront. A while ago, I remember reading about a couple of sites that let you create instant email addresses. (I forget my source... if you are reading this, my sincere apologies)

Mailinator is one of them. From the Mailinator site -

Have you ever gone to a website that asks for your email address? (haven't we all). You know that the moment you type it in, it is streaming across the net on its way to every spam database in the world. You simply can't be that careless with your personal email address.

What if there was a website that any and every email address you can think of already exists. And you use any one you like, anytime you like - just by thinking one up.

Welcome to Mailinator™. It's like super-instant, always-ready, any-email-you-want email. Right now. It's your personal disposable email account. Here is how it works: You are on the web, at a party, or talking to your favorite insurance salesman. Wherever you are, someone (or some webpage) asks for your email. You know if you give it, you're gambling with your privacy. On the other hand, you do want at least one message from that person. The answer is to give them a mailinator address. You don't need to sign-up. You just make it up on the spot. Pick or — pick anything you want.

Later, come to this site and check that account. Its that easy. Mailinator accounts are created when mail arrives for them. No signup, no personal information, and when you're done — you can walk away — an instant solution to one way spammers get your address. It's an anti-spam solution for everyone. Your temporary email account will be automatically deleted for you after a few hours.

It is quite handy and pretty simple to use. I used to use it all the time. Do not know what has come over me nowadays though.

However, this does not address the basic problem itself. There are a lot of anecdotes within the discussion, where information is exhorted from the common man, be it a priviledged customer card or a special rebate... We often find ourselves in a situation where we are approached with an offer for signing up for the customer loyalty program etc etc... This is a serious problem that has to addressed. Privacy is indeed an important thing and I value it.

There's a rather strange approach of dealing with the problem, that I came across some time back.... taking the attack back to the spammers.. in other words, 'Spam the spammers'. I also remember this interesting paper titled 'On rules of engagement for Information Warfare'. You can find that here.

When we are being asked piece of private information in partial payment for goods or services (or for discounts), the gut feeling is that we feel cheated as we are exchanging our humanity for a monetary benefit. However, we fight this gut feeling at every turn and convince ourselves that this is a small loss for a great gain. The most important point to ponder is that, if this information is not worth too much, why are we given such incentives to part with this information? In my opinion, it is we that control our privacy and it is we, who chose to disclose what to whom. And the problem in the networked world is that we neither know nor trust the recipient of the information. This is a situation that is unlikely to change as long as each of us is running after our own personal privacy...

Cheers !

Fortune favors the lucky.


Blogger Without Borders said...

But privacy, my foot! Society has given up on that long time long time ago since we started having credit cards, internet accounts, web logs, close circuit television cameras, electronic chat, and reality TVs. Actually, privacy hasn’t been there since homo sapiens discovered that life is better in cramped urban setting, in a context we call now “civilization.”

Try setting up a TV program where people’s houses will be wired and their intimate activities aired on TV and you will be swamped with thousands of volunteers. Oh my, people just love to have “exposure” and instant fame and one may wonder why there is just so many home-made porn and “sex scandals” floating around in cyberspace such that one might suspect they probably produced it themselves and uploaded them to the Web. It’s not uncommon these days for decent citizens of this republic to dwell in electronic chat rooms where they bare their souls as well as their private parts for the world to behold. Try surfing the blogosphere and one would see people of all ages, gender, persuasion, color, and creed hopelessly begging the world to see and read their innermost feelings and darkest thoughts, including the prurient ones. This is one big exhibitionist world craving—nay lusting—for attention.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Laks said...

Valid points you raise. However, "one big exhibitionist world".. that's definitely taking things a bit too far. Agreed all that you mentioned do exist and will continue to exist. These are as old as the networked world itself. But still, I hadn't worked these into my perspective. I will try to do so here.

First, there are people and there are people. The constitution of humanity on the networked world is at best a melange. While there are people who would perfectly fit the description above, there are those of us who value our privacy too. No one size fits all... For the former, as you aptly put it, privacy is an non-existent word. I am trying to address privacy for those who do value it but for whom the subconcious urge to gain monetary benefits for *nothing* overcomes their human instinct to protect their space. All I want to say here that it is not *nothing* that they are exchanging but deluging this information could prove to be disastrous.

But again on a totally tangential plane, what makes these people tick? Fame? or the lack of it in the real world...

Cheers !

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Aarthi said...

And then we have forums like EFF which "protects" our digital rights. My take is this - if I have to show my emails to a bunch of folks who look them to track down terrorism (and such acts), so be it. I'd much rather give up my email contents than have a bunch of killed for refusing to do so. I think privacy is slightly overhyped today - everyone uses the word to match their context.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Aarthi said...

Hey, corrections in the previous comment (I don't know why, some words are eaten up!)
...bunch of folks who look thro' them..
..than have a bunch of people killed...

6:20 PM  
Blogger Laks said...

I think you are slightly off here... I am talking about the numerous survey forms and marketing rebates... *Not* government subpoenas to counter terrorism.

Either ways I guess if the various govt. organizations got their data together, they could tell you your life history !

Cheers !

Dignity is like a flag. It flaps in a storm. -- Roy Mengot

6:26 PM  

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