Afraid of the Intercloud

Jürgen Geuter asked on G+:

»Ok, help me understand. Why is #Google buying #Nest seen as bad for privacy/data control/etc.?

I don’t get it, the data Google already has about individuals is better. Is it because Google is seen tied to objects that just exist around us (and are not our direct extensions such as smartphones)? Is it the usual underspecified feeling of “creepyness”?«

I went for the creepiness option. This is my reply, which I recycle here:

Maybe it’s because we’re mentally still living in the pre-cloud and in the database paradigm. Google represents like no other organization – maybe except the NSA – a technological progress that’s hard to grasp. We have no appropriate conception of information risk and risk management for a world in which a single organization can process various data about the wealthier half of the planet’s population and draw inferences from these data. Google represents this development, working at its forefront and pushing the limits.

We have no intuition what may, could, or will happen to us in the long run due to this new technology, and we have no idea ho to manage the risks (or non-risks) that we don’t understand. In a way we are in a similar situation as those who drafted our first data protection laws back in the seventies and early eighties: having to manage not only the uncertainty inherent in any risk consideration, but rather an uncertainty about the uncertainty. Back then, the tentative conceptual and legal solution was to ban all storing and processing of personally identifiable data and grant permission only on a case-by-case basis.

Progress has turned this approach into a delusion, but we lack a convincing replacement. We don’t know what’s risky and what isn’t; most of us don’t even understand what creates value in an Internet-scale data processing business. We project all our uncertainties on the pioneers.

P.S.: Just while I was writing this, the following quote appeared in my G+ stream:

»The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.«

— Alan Watts