Edited on 23, 26 Jul and 2 Sep to remove most of the post.
Edited on 27 Sep 2013: to add the comment on Gmail.
Edited on 12 Dec 2013: Adding the Free Software Foundation link about this.
There is much hoo haa now about the NSA data collection programs that have been reported. I’m discouraged by everyone’s surprise. If you are an eligible voter, this is on your hands because you enfranchised your legislators to pass the laws that allowed it.
I’m also quietly upset by the lack of general concern about the importance of privacy as a cornerstone of democracy. Being left alone with one’s private thoughts and beliefs is essential to the social compact. Personal security is only next in priority and somewhere down the list is protection of what George Carlin called your stuff.
But most of all I’m depressed by the lack of attention to private companies who collect your information.
I believe that the major activities of the NSA are on the up and up so far as intent, including the two classes of projects that have been revealed. They do what the law allows. They may be stretching things, and they may have cast their nets too wide for the world to work properly. But in the end, we will have our modern Frank Church and we can have — if we want — more reasonable limits and control, again through our legislatures.
Think instead about companies. They do not have any oversight. They do not have to follow any of the laws that the security folks do. Why not? Because you signed a contract with them allowing them to spy on you in ways the government cannot, even using stretched interpretations of bad law. They sell this information to any comer, including of course intelligence agencies, ours and others. They also sell to other commercial aggregators who sell to anyone. They, you can assume, have mechanisms that allow them to deny any knowledge of this.
What they collect is far, far more detailed than what is known of the NSA work and often pegged to you with no anonymity. Can you trust them or who they sell to? I happen to know you cannot. Here is a FSF link with a relatively mild but welcome opinion.
Think of the problem as one faced by abstraction engineers. The world is very likely governed by a class of logics described by von Neumann and currently known as geometric logics. Their nature is still largely unknown beyond the fact that they are not implementable in current machines. The usual problem faced by folks like me is how to capture the essential features of the world of interest in the ordinary inadequate logic used by machines.
A means is to go through the subclass of geometric logics we do understand, the so-called quantum logics. This is what Hadoop/Mapreduce is all about regardless of what engineers using it think.
All big data implementations depend on this path. It is lossy; if we had better abstractions in quantum logics, we would have a broader coverage of the world. But we don't; we have the quantum methods from physics.
Now suppose you are someone who wants to deliberately place important causal dynamics in the holes, the parts of the world our intermediate logics cannot cover. What you have to do is establish some causal mechanisms in your behavior that follow the larger geometric logics (because that is the way the world is), but not the neutered quantum interaction the big guys must use. These do not have to be primary causal couplings.
If you choose to use Gmail, that is your business. You understand what they do, right?
But if I send email to you at Gmail, you are forcing me to make the same compromises you did. I am unwilling to do that. Trust me on this.
Therefore, it is entirely possible that I will not reply to you, or that I may not be very forthcoming in the message. Please message me using a different account.