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I Know What You
Did Last Night!

Posted on May 1, 2001

by Mike Banks Valentine

Don't try to deny it. I know what you did last night!

One might expect that a line like that could only come from a jealous wife who has had a private detective follow her straying hubby, but soon it may come from your wallet or even your milk carton!

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Why would your milk carton care what you did last night? It doesn't, but it could soon "know" that you passed the grocery store on the way home without picking up a fresh carton of milk. It will simply ask the garage door opener which was told by the car and then inform your briefcase which will remind your cell phone to alert you tomorrow before you pass the market again.

Your checkbook will know your bank balance before you balance it, so you won't need to balance it. Your car will insist that you take it to the dealership for maintenance before it reaches the mileage limit set by the manufacturer for required service to keep the warranty intact. The Secretary of State (or Dept. of Motor Vehicles [DMV] in some states) will be able to disable your car if you fail to renew your registration or license.

All of this magic is possible now and in use in some cases. Your world is very close to being automated, trackable and recorded in a permanent database. Huge abuses are possible in this strange new world and we need to establish boundaries and limit access to this information before it gets out of those databases and into any "unsavory" databases. I'll bet on the newest action adventure movies in the next few months having something to do with "Arnold" chasing down a good database that was corrupted by an evil data warehousing software developer.

I'm not a doomsayer, so I'll address these issues by suggesting that we all remain aware, informed and alert to the possibility of abuses so that we can stop them from occurring.

I am a technology enthusiast so I welcome these developments for what they mean in terms of convenience and in making my life easier. The wireless web, BlueTooth technology, embedded chips, bar codes and information databases make it all easily do-able.

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For those of you unfamiliar with BlueTooth technology let me put in its simplest terms (limit of my own understanding) it allows antyhing with this low frequency radio transmission to "talk" with anything else with the same embedded technology. This means that inanimate objects can communicate with each other whenever they are within a specific physical proximity to each other.

PRIVACY as we've known it in the past may be unattainable or shall I say, un-maintainable. Public uproar at well publicized issues such as the database being sold as an asset in its bankruptcy, when it had promised that information would never be sold, illustrate how information on YOU could be sold, resold, sold on the blackmarket, hacked from multiplicity of sources or simply stored for access by big brother.

Suffice it to say that information, in the information economy, has the value we used to assign to precious metals or gemstones. When things have value, they are susceptible to theft, graft, bribes and criminal abuses by bad guys. Information is golden and precious. We need to define a new type of "Fort Knox" for information sources. Security, encryption and permission levels to access distribute, store and manage all types of information that exists in millions of databases that could all be easily merged.

I was told today of a web site that exists allowing you to send snail mail to someone by entering their email address in a web form. DoubleClick was thoroughly reamed for publicly announcing their intention to merge online and offline databases for exactly that ability, yet other companies are operating quietly without public outcry. Because they are doing it without telling us.

"I know what you did last night" may soon be a wonderful and welcome comment if it comes from your milk carton. Let's just keep that information in the family of inanimate objects and out of the hands of the government, criminals, telemarketers and unsavory data warehousing software developers.

A recent privacy uproar concerns the public posting of ICQ logs from the PC of a web company CEO concerning internal private discussions over the instant messaging service.

In this case it was someone having access to the same PC that led to the security breach, but it has fired discussions about how instant messaging text is served and how and where it is stored and who has access to those logs, how they might be accessed externally and by whom and if they are encrypted.

This is the un-nerving side of ease of access to information but there are also some seriously funny thoughts on privacy:

The link above will take you to a hilarious article describing a "continuous series of detachable, 480x480-pixel square displays, complete with Bluetooth wireless communications!"

This "display" innovation may get more personal than you think since it comes as the newest version of "Free Toilet Paper with Banner Ads".

Talk about getting personal with privacy issues!

Article by Mike Banks Valentine

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