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back to article We're ALL Winston Smith now - and our common enemy is the Big Brother State

The latest thing we've all got to worry about in this brave new world of ours is that the young, not having read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, are simply too eager to give up their information and privacy to the tech giants. Those richer in years have been forewarned by the novel and are thus less likely to get sucked into this …

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Big Brother

Niven has this one covered

To quote Larry Niven "F × S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa."

The magnitude of these has changed beyond recognition in recent years in accordance with another of his laws; "Ethics change with technology."

Personally as someone who has read 1984 I think a lot of what saves us is our utter indifference. The system in the book only works due to the scary level of commitment from the government employees. At the moment we simply lack this (hooray for bureaucracy!). In the future? Not so sure.

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FAIL

Re: Niven has this one covered

And how does giving up freedom of thought/action to Google increase one's security, exactly?

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Coat

F × S = k

F × S = k

Am I the only one who reads this as "Fuck's sake"?

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Re: "The product of Freedom and Security is a constant"

No it isn't...

Not as long as there is another factor called money(M) involved in the equasion...

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Re: Niven has this one covered

I see the likes of Google as facilitating 'freedom' with their tools and means of expressing oneself. Anything you give them in exchange is a net reduction in your security (of identity etc) by taking it out of your hands.

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Re: Niven has this one covered

It sort of worked in East Germany.

You only need enough commitment from a few to get the ball rolling, once everyone else thinks there's no escape and that any transgression will be discovered and punished they'll be more compliant. Even to the extent of becoming part of the system.

The message from the wall was, in essence, "no-one gets out of here alive". It works for the Norks and would in the UK too given the right resources.

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Big Brother

Indifference

Personally as someone who has read 1984 I think a lot of what saves us is our utter indifference. The system in the book only works due to the scary level of commitment from the government employees. At the moment we simply lack this (hooray for bureaucracy!). In the future? Not so sure.

Stewart Lee, in stating that he hates Twitter, (half) jokingly called it "a state surveillance agency staffed by gullible idiots. A stasi for the Angry Birds Generation"

Like all humour, there's a kernel of truth in that. It won't be the government snooping on what we do, and who we do it with. It will be us - the public.

Most people in East Germany selection for political "re-education" were dobbed in by neighbours (probably in a pre-emptive strike) or more chillingly, their own children. A common classroom trick was to ask the kids to sing the theme tune to the news, to identify whose parents were watching the banned West German news.

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Meh

Re: Niven has this one covered

To quote Larry Niven "F × S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa."

This is somewhat similar to the comparison of Left vs. Right paradox. IN THEORY, the Left wants equality for all, and to do that they are willing to take away people's freedoms. The Right wants Freedom for all, and as a consequence of exercising those freedoms equality falls away.

At least that's in theory. In practice, there is no longer a left & right except for the comedy they play out for the voting public and the partisan suckers that believe the other side is the reason why their side doesn't get what they pretend to want. In reality, only the richest 1% get what they want, while the rest of the voting public get partisan excuses. That's why they lose both freedom and equality.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Niven has this one covered

I would argue that k varies dependent on the enlightenment of the society. In the dark ages, it was very much lower... very few personal freedoms, and the constant risk of being butchered in a viking raid. It's possible to envision a future without war, social or religious conflict, once those instinctive monkey-brain urges to form tribes are overridden, and competition for resources is reduced as manufacturing and farming efficiency rises. Let's hope that k continues to go up, rather than reaching a maximum (or, terrifyingly, already have reached it).

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Re: Niven has this one covered

@BillG

If this idiotic ditty is what passes for political theory then its no surprise we are all of us in such deep doodo, with clowns and morons like Cameron and Milliband as leaders.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Niven has this one covered

"The system in the book only works due to the scary level of commitment from the government employees. At the moment we simply lack this (hooray for bureaucracy!). In the future? Not so sure."

The other end of the scale was covered by Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" where the Government employees are astonishingly inept but retaining the bureaucratic, oppressive nightmare where life is just as miserable and dangerous (yes i know it was meant as comedy, but sometimes with HMG it rings very true lol)

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Re: Niven has this one covered

Not comedy; satire. The very best satire is nearly indistinguishable from the thing it is satirising.

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Re: F × S = k

I'm getting FriSK.

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Big Brother

Re: Indifference @JimmyPage

Most people in East Germany selection for political "re-education" were dobbed in by neighbours (probably in a pre-emptive strike) or more chillingly, their own children. A common classroom trick was to ask the kids to sing the theme tune to the news, to identify whose parents were watching the banned West German news.

This is also seen in 1984. Then again, the real-life inspiration for 1984 was Stalinist USSR, of which the GDR was pretty much a carbon copy/puppet state anyway. It is also why the fall of the GDR caused a lot of grief when the Stasi secret files were uncovered; many formerly GDR citizens started finding out that neighbors, friends or even their own family had ratted them out to the Stasi.

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Re: Niven has this one covered

With every passing year, Brazil looks more and more like a documentary.

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Re: Niven has this one covered

Whose Freedom, whose Security? Orwell was warning about the ruling group minimising the freedom of the underlings to ensure their own security. Niven's law holds for this limited case, but you get something quite different if the security of everyone is considered, and society switches to a state where there is no constant ruling group.

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Re: Niven has this one covered

> I would argue that k varies dependent on the enlightenment of the society. In the dark ages, it was very much lower

I'm not sure I agree with this. In the dark ages, you could always wonder off and start your own farmstead in the forest or wilderness. The volume of legal requirements was rather low, not the 5000 new laws per year coming out of the EU alone, never mind national government. The State's reach was also limited meaning that freedom and security from peer attacks were somewhat inversely related but freedom and security from state attack were directly related.

The question is, what is the larger problem, peer attack or state attack and can the state coopt peers to attack you. Authoritarian regimes on both sides of the spectrum have shown that it certainly can. Would the State attack you? Perhaps we can learn from one of the most advanced, most enlightened, highly educated societies in the world. Germany in the early part of the 20th century. What tipped the balance and plunged the world into chaos? Probably not the rantings of a charismatic madman, but desperation caused by economic collapse which meant anyone offering hope was welcomed, regardless of their views on Jews.

What drives stock-market bubbles? Low interest rates. With no return on investment available from loaning money to business in a format where business has a firm idea of return, the money goes on speculation. Interest rates show you what return business is really expecting, stock prices show you how desperate the gambling is. Ideally the return should be on average around the same from both markets - slightly higher in stocks due to additional risk. If the difference is massive, the risk is massive.

So the problem is that we have built an inordinately intrusive infrastructure and new we teeter on the brink of economic disaster. I don't know if the NSA would have built their tapping infrastructure without the example of Google, or if its facial recognition capabilities are enhanced by facebook's tagging, but we with more and more of our lives held under the control of third parties its a problem. I would not be able to find work without job search engines, without email and DNS. What if the government decided I should not be able to use these things because I am an undesirable non-native? The problem with massive amounts of meta data is that it can be used to construct very convincing circumstantial evidence. When people are hurting they want swift justice and decisive action. The impartial, objective computer says that is you in the photo and you are guilty.

Combine this scenario with the vague laws passed in the last 10 years which mean everyone is criminal. What happens when the government goes back to google, pulls up your GPS location for the last 5 years and slaps a GBP 4000 fine on you for every time it notices you arrived at your destination faster than your should have, or if you can't pay you go to jail. Perhaps only enemies of the party will be investigated like this. We could have had self-contained GPS's but most people never really twigged that live updates could be used to track you and the system is set up to do just that. It's so pervasive, that paper maps with their offline capabilities are rare.

All our tech provides extra features, but the tradeoff is increased fragility. Turn off the mobile network and all sorts of things just don't happen. House purchasing failures on the other side of the world batter our economy.

I wonder if the dark age death tolls were anything comparable to what we have inflicted on ourselves with our greed and tech-fueled economic capabilities?

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Re: Niven has this one covered

East Germany was scary.

I had a friend who was a teacher in East Germany. A few years back she showed me her Stasi file, which she had requested after the wall came down and the archives were put under federal control.

She had been a teacher at a school where many of the elite sent their children. She lost her job without any ground being given and had to find alternative work. She found out one of her colleagues was a spy and had tricked her into saying something non-positive about the government, his report was filed a couple of days before she was kicked out.

She didn't say anything negative, just not positive. Not "the government is a buch of tossers who will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," but more along the lines of, "there wasn't much bread in the shop this week, the government could do better."

And that was at a time when people knew they could be spied upon, when brothers, sisters, mother, fathers, spouses or best friends could be secretly spying on you.

What have you said online or in mails over the last years that could raise the ire of your government?

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Re: Niven has this one covered

"The other end of the scale was covered by Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" where the Government employees are astonishingly inept but retaining the bureaucratic, oppressive nightmare where life is just as miserable and dangerous (yes i know it was meant as comedy, but sometimes with HMG it rings very true lol)"

Intriguingly Brazil was inspired by a real-life incident during Brazil's dictatorship period which saw the wrong man tortured after a bureaucratic cock-up

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Re: Niven has this one covered

I always liked this formulation:

In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there's a great deal of difference.

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Mushroom

Re: Niven has this one covered

I was reading and listening to all the political gloating/angst over the Cantor loss here, and came to that conclusion. The misdirection being played out by both sides demonstrates that the system really is rigged and rigged for that exact reason. Keep your eye on the ball (while we pick your pocket, steal your house, and retirement). Oh well, live and learn. I just hope they realize that six plus millenia of historical record is littered by a LOT of dead elites.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Niven has this one covered

Brazil: Best. Film. Ever.*

* My wife disagrees and just thinks it's typical of the kind of weird shit I like.

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Re: I would argue that k varies dependent

So, did you fail basic calculus or your search engine skills?

Niven explicitly said k is fixed only for a given individual and otherwise varies according to a great many inputs.

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Re: the real-life inspiration for 1984 was Stalinist USSR

that's funny, because in my reading Orwell references Hitler and the Spanish Civil War more than he ever referenced Russia. And he noted frequently that it was written for the UK and America because he did not think we are as naturally immune to fascist thinking as we too often suppose.

While it is true that Churchill made his famous Iron Curtain speech in 1946, it is also true that he was on his way out of politics even as he made that speech. So no, Stalinist Russia was not the model for 1984. Rather even though Orwell fancied himself a democratic socialist, he was drawing on what he knew of socialism in all of its various forms as it had been practiced in and around him.

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Re: Niven has this one covered

Perhaps we can learn from one of the most advanced, most enlightened, highly educated societies in the world.

Perhaps you should read more Orwell:

Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history2 etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/12/george-orwell-s-letter-on-why-he-wrote-1984.html (not much commentary, mostly just Orwell's letter on the subject)

I didn't like reading 1984 and I haven't read much else by him. But I at least am aware of his primary tenets and don't try to re-write them.

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Good point

Very good point here.

I am not so worried about Google having my data, but then there are some plans that online access to government services is only available through a special government account, that needs to be verified blah blah. Whatever they say, what they want is control. I don't need that.

With the industry, there normally is an opt-out, and mostly its anyway an opt-in. Not scary. You should just be aware what you are giving away. Do you get money for value?

Biggest problem is: politicians have already started diversionary tactics to make the people believe Google (or whoever) is the enemy. I know too many people who believe that politcians are really here to make this a better place, so they don't get what's going on.

/Zane

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Devil

Re: Good point

"politicians have already started diversionary tactics to make the people believe Google (or whoever) is the enemy."

Google are doing a pretty good job of it for themselves - disregarding all the normal creepy spying stuff, not paying their taxes goes a long way to convince the average man who the bad guys are...

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Devil

Re: Good point

Google avoiding taxes is a bad thing only insofar as they are not helping the rest of us do the same. With all their resources and tax accountant/specialists they should easily be able to set up a bank/investment company where we could all enjoy exactly the same freedom. Or (better yet!) financially support any political party that is serious about abolishing taxes. The socialists will whine, so we might need special rules to tax just them... for their own good, of course.

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Re: Good point

"should easily be able to set up a bank/investment company where we could all enjoy exactly the same freedom"

Actually, anybody can already do what google does, or variations thereof.

The problem is that avoiding taxes is quite expensive in and of itself. Therefore the amount of tax you avoid paying has to exceed the costs of putting everything in place to be worth it.

For most people it isn't.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Good point (But they can't jail EVERYONE)

Perhaps the best way to stop an unjust government is to STOP (not avoid) paying taxes.

If EVERYONE stopped, then the government would go belly up and collapse before they could catch everyone and lock them up. There would not be a government left if nobody paid taxes

As far as I'm concerned, all those people who went on the Dole are now my DEPENDENTS.

The government takes my money to pay for the votes they buy to stay elected and to pay the

"unenjoyment" for those who can't find work, and their health care and their food stamps and their "Obama Phone" and their EBC card you can use to buy booze and weed with.

I ask you this. WHY should I continue the cycle and keep working? What's the point of continuing to throw good money (and effort) after bad?

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Re: I am not so worried about Google having my data

You should be. Because they've selected farmed out access to their data to a single political party in the US.

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Re: financially support any political party that is serious about abolishing taxes.

What an odd thing to say given how they have informationally supported (far more valuable than any mere cash/lobbyist contribution could ever be) the party in the US that is most likely to raise taxes.

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"Common to both of these stories is the mistake that private sector information-gathering is the same as (and thus as dangerous as) mandatory state collection of the same data."

True in principle but add in the fact that the state has access to all the data collected by the private sector whenever it wants and the lines begin to blur. Especially since we have no way of knowing what or when the private sector is giving up and there are no judicial controls to moderate the state's behaviour.

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Going a little bit further along this line of thought, it's also reasonable to assume that companies like Google mine you deeper and harder -because money is at stake and information is what gets that money- than a spook outfit might be inclined to.

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Judicial controls

Judicial controls are indeed the kicker. I have no objection whatsoever to Tesco knowing that I have a toddler: they use that information to (Oh! The infamy!) give me special offers on nappies. And I approve of the law which says they're not allowed to pass my information on to Sainsbury's without my permission. So I was a bit bloody pissed off when the Blair Government simply announced that they were commandeering all personal records held by the supermarkets because they felt like it.

In my republic (whenever I get around to founding it), it will be illegal for politicians to vote away constraints on their powers.

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@Irongut and others

Where is the evidence that the state has access to all our data? The potential to access it all via a MITM attack via our ISP's I grant you but thats not quite the same thing.

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Re: @Irongut and others

I think it was a reference to national security letters in the US, where by a secret court gives a secret authorization to secretly demand data from a company that is not allowed to tell anyone that this even took place.

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Facepalm

Google's money comes from advertisers, who believe that Google's information on people will help them sell junk to the same people.

Google can tell them all kinds of subtle lies about people and the stuff they are interested in. Who's going to know?

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Well I would certainly expect other results from buying ad-words than Google telling me it's working... I might even hope for an increase in sales o.0

So yeah - Google could tell me all sorts of shit, most likely they wont tell me shit. I'll trust that they target the advertisements, and if I see a proper amount of return from my investment, I'll probably renew my ad contract. If nothing happens, then I'd be a fool to continue advertising using Google.

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Black Helicopters

Re: @Irongut and others

Have you not heard of the 'secret room' at AT&T at 611 Folsom St. in San Francisco outed by former AT&T technician Mark Klein?

https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying

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Re: Judicial controls

In a constitutional republic (like a lot of countries are) it already is. Doesn't help much though as the government simply builds a big enough military/police force that they can then vote away the prohibition on voting themselves more power and break the heads of the first few people who complain. The other 80% of the population are sheep who don't pay attention and are too afraid to stand up for themselves.

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Honesty is the best policy

One of the inter-generational differences (whether it's the metaphorical cart the or horse in this argument I don't have the insight to say) is attitudes towards honesty: telling the truth - whatever "truth" turns out to be.

One of the many throwaway lines in the BBC sitcom Just Good Friends (other than the innoculation classic: "didn't you feel a prick?" "Well, Penn, I was a bit embarassed") was Penny's admonishing Vince for telling lies and getting the reply "That's because I'm a liar" and after that the whole topic was dropped and the story moved on. Vince tells lies: it's no big deal.

These days, it seems, that "being a liar" doesn't mean telling people that it's "black" when really it's "blue". But that lying now means not volunteering every single piece of relevant, or otherwise, information at the earliest opportunity - what used to be called "blabbing". Worse than that: being caught lying (telling actual black is blue untruths) is portrayed as being such a heinous crime that the very thought of it is, well, unthinkable. So much for "ooops, you got me" and brushing it aside.

In such an environment, where information is offered freely to or even: forced on a person, how can the generation brought up thinking that way act any differently? They have it drummed into them that giving information is mandatory. That withholding it is "sinful". That you must tell the truth all the time, to everyone, no matter what the consequences for anyone involved.

So when a big, bad, internet giant says "tell us everything", they blab. Age, height, weight, most intimate thoughts, address, list of 50 closest friends, political leanings, shoe size, suspicions about classmates, inside leg measurement, which musician they'd most like to have sex with, hair colour, medical history, favourite programmes and fantasies about their teachers. Hell, even PV-ing is less intrusive.

Whether this is considered "being honest", or is simple naivety, or some sort of catharsis we'll never know. The good thing is that all this data gets lost in the mix along with the billions of other personal records. Fortunately for all these data-givers, so little of it is either interesting or relevant.

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Re: Honesty is the best policy

We live in a nation of informants.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Honesty is the best policy

Not sure the younger generation are that honest. They might be a little more naive about incriminating themselves because they don't look ahead. Especially when they feel they are only interacting with their peers.

The older generations had many more things to conceal - there were many social taboos. They learned from an early age what might lead to a punishment. Either they avoided it - or more usually made sure they weren't caught. They were schooled in, and by, hypocrisy.

To be fair to the younger generation. Although many things are no longer taboo - the punishment of an innocent transgression is likely to be a jobsworth over-reaction that can blight their future. They generally find that out when it's too late.

Adults expect kids to be able to fathom out new situations without being told about them. Adults generally have forgotten that kids are learning to handle these new situations and their illogical nuances. In the same way politicians are continually passing laws that criminalise the population - and expect everyone to know them by chapter and verse through some mysterious process of osmosis.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Honesty is the best policy

"We live in a nation of informants."

Do we? People nowadays seem more inclined not to want to get involved in other people's business. Either they fear being dragged into something - or they think "live and let live" - or "there for the grace of god go I".

In the old days there was solidarity within a social group - but there were also the venomous attitudes that were wrongly justified as defending "Christian" morality. Those who considered themselves "holier than thou" took pleasure in criticising or denouncing other people.

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Re: Honesty is the best policy

No we dont. Informants generally make a conscious choice to inform. When you dont make that conscious choice you are just being used as a tool or a dupe.

Its an important point - most people dont seriously consider the data will be used against them, and in a right thinking and operating society they shouldnt have to.

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Re: Honesty is the best policy

Quote: Do we? People nowadays seem more inclined not to want to get involved in other people's business. Either they fear being dragged into something - or they think "live and let live" - or "there for the grace of god go I".

Familiar with the term "yenta"? They are in abundance and not just femeal. They thrive on knowing what's going on in everyone else's lives.

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There's a fundamental flaw in this article and it's a big one.

>>" Those guys slurping the Big Data streams couldn't give a hoot how we get our jollies, nor what our political beliefs are."

That can change. Very fast.

These companies can be easily suborned by the government or law enforcement. Once that data is gathered, good luck keeping it out of their hands next time there's a witch hunt.

And as to choice: I recommend spending a week trying to avoid all tracking. It's pretty bloody hard. Just blocking google-analytics at the router level causes about a third of the sites I visit to stop working. And so long as the information can all be joined up it doesn't matter if most of it is anonymous. It only takes the linking of one part of it to a real person to link all of it. And that's near trivial to do when you have so much information.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's a fundamental flaw in this article and it's a big one.

I'm sure there's something that can be done about that. Google and everybody else has their tracking code on the webpage in the form of some JavaScript. So either subvert the JavaScript engine itself, and lie to Google, or rewrite the code on the webpage.

I mean, how hard is it to subvert a C compiler to add all kinds of backdoors to compiled code like Tor or TrueCrypt?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's a fundamental flaw in this article and it's a big one. @h4rm0ny

How true

After all IBM sold the punchcard machines to the Nazis and we all know what they were used for.

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