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Privacy, Google, DRM

October 2, 2007

This one is kind of a sketch of some thoughts. although I suppose that could be said of just about any of my posts.  I was listening to a discussion  of digital rights management (DRM) issues recently and got thinking.  The concept on the table was the  use of DRM technologies by various music publishers and how they are choosing to employ strict measures to control the use of their content (or not).  Currently, this is really in a state of flux as some systems are using DRM heavily to control use, such as iTunes restrictions on the number of machines that an mp3 can be used on … this is being relaxed in many cases, but variations on this are being used all over.  In order for Apple to be able to run this DRM system, they have to know quite a bit about you, so that they can track which file you have (what it is and who you are), where you are using it, and where you are transferring it to.  For some reason people are just fine with DRM unless they are the types who are always transferring files and find these restrictions inconvenient  … those who still believe that peer-to-peer file sharing is bad generally support DRM.

What’s odd to me is how people put up with this prying into their private worlds.  As a long-time librarian (and former public librarian), I have a very strong belief that it is nobody’s business what  I consume information-wise, and that nobody should be watching what I read (or listen to), and attempting to control that.  I understand the desire to  protect copyright holders and not have their product distributed all over, but I’m not so happy about giving up my privacy so that Apple can track every song I listen to, and watch which computer in my house  they reside on.  Not a good trade-off in my books.  What is even more mind-boggling about this is that the same people who might support DRM watching your every move seem to be really upset that Google also knows things about you.  The worries seem to be endless that Google is watching what you search and potentially recording it all somewhere and then doing, uh, something with that info.   Of course, unless you have a gmail account that info isn’t very personalized, and it certainly is nothing like Apple having not only your IP address and all of your preferences, but also your credit card number and everything connected to that.

And the thing with Google is that they give me something in return … their search works and improves … their mail works and gives me the functionality I need. The news headlines at the top of my mail are personalized and it works well enough that I occasionally click on the darn things to read them … I will give up a certain level of privacy if I receive content or functionality in return, and Google does that.  DRM limits my abilities, infringes on my privacy, and tends to be based on completely arbitrary ideas of acceptable behaviour (like 5 machines is an acceptable number of places to put your mp3s … six is bad).

By the way, it seems that Windows Vista has also taken on the responsibility of controlling one’s behaviour.  Apparently, if you attempt to back up your own DVDs, Vista will not allow you to do that.  The crazy part is that it’s actually legal to back up your own DVDs … this kind of thing really drives me nuts.

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