Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
the daily events and musings of Jim.
It provides an easy way for his friends and family to check in on him,
and serves as a online repository for his random
thoughts, kaleidoscopic flashbacks, and writings on an array of diverse topics.
“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
entertain you, but not intended for college credit.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

It's 10 PM...

do you know where your PII is?

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is a term used in information security. It refers to the various types of information that can be collected and stored in commercial databases about your identity and associated habits.

Something as innocuous as an email address or Facebook ID can be used to uniquely identify who you are, and by implication it can be combined with other public and private data sources for even richer information stores.

This morning I watched a number of assorted Web-Industry Executives appear as witnesses before a US House Commerce Subcommittee hearing regarding "Behavioral Online Advertising." The subcommittee is chaired by Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virgina. The industry witnesses included Christopher Kelly, the Chief Privacy Officer for Facebook and Nichole Wong, Deputy General Council for Google (which happens to be the application service provider of Blogger, host of this Blog).

It's clear that many Internet companies provide a service that aims to gather as much information as they can about individuals, including their browsing and spending habits. Online data is often matched with off-line data, and this data is routinely marketed to third-party advertisers.

While the "pie in the sky" upside to all of this data collection is that we will be more empowered as consumers, I have many reservations about the potential downside implications of this rapidly advancing technology.

Perhaps Google and Facebook are more cognizant than most companies of the issues surrounding personal rights, but already we have a plethora of unscrupulous SpyWare vendors that indiscriminately gather vital information about us everyday. Privacy laws are not keeping pace with the technology.

Since my blog is primarily about events and ideas in the area of new music, let me provide one example of how PII was recently used in a disturbing case that relates to the arts.

In America we are all aware of the "American Idol" contest where fans select a winner by texting their votes to the program. In Europe, the televised song contest is known as Eurovison, and it's been around since the 1950s. It so happens that 43 Azerbaijani music fans texted their votes in support of this years' Armenian Eurovision entrants: a duo known as Inga and Anush. The musical duo sang the tune "Jan Jan."

Here is the evil part. Using the built-in capabilities of the communications technology, the Azerbaijan national security ministry located and called those 43 fans into headquarters for what was described as a "robust interrogation."

The intersection between music and politics is nothing new, but the introduction of advanced technology into the equation provides certain elements of society with powerful tools to monitor and record our listening habits.

While I have no interest whatsoever in the kitschy songs of Eurovision, the potential monitoring, control, and consequential loss of artistic freedom and musical expression is of great concern. Artistic censoring has happened in the past. It happened easily enough in a time when the capabilities of technology were not available as a tool of repression. Today, we are but a few mouse clicks away from being monitoring and categorized in terms of the kind of music we choose to listen to. In fact, this process is already happening. The databases are growing.

Just beware that someday our musical preferences could come back to haunt us. For those of you that have a controversial or minority point of view in the world of music (or anything else), you have justification to be afraid.

Stand up for your rights.