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Privacy, Tracking, & Technology

Date: 09-21-10
Host: George Noory
Guests: Katherine Albrecht, Lauren Weinstein

In the first half of the show, consumer privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht discussed the ways companies and the government are tracking people's behavior via RFID chips and the Internet. China has been using technology to track and suppress dissidents, and as the U.S. moves toward becoming "a sort of Big Brother top-down surveillance-based police state, I could see something like that happening here," she cautioned. Homeland Security has deliberately chosen the least secure type of RFID to incorporate into Americans' driver's licenses because they plan to piggyback onto the private sector's tracking infrastructure, and then pull their records when they see fit, she continued.

The single biggest privacy issue is Google-- they have quietly amassed the biggest dossier of personal information on individuals in the history of the world, Albrecht declared. "Google knows what your backyard looks like because they've got the Google satellite up in the sky...what the front of your house looks like because they've got the Google van driving around snapping pictures," and they know about your medical conditions and other personal information based on your Internet searches, she said. Regarding all of Google's free products, she commented: "When was the last time a multi-billion dollar corporation gave you all its products for free? The answer is never, because those aren't products. They're bait and you are the product." As far as search engines, she recommends people use startpage.com instead of Google, as this site doesn't retain data on users.

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Appearing in the second half of the show, Internet and privacy expert Lauren Weinstein spoke about various issues related to the web. Regarding a recent case where a Google engineer was fired for accessing private data, and then stalking some teenage Google users, there are checks and balances that could be put into place to lessen such occurrences, such as multiple staff people needed to access customer data, he noted.

"Cookies" and other tracking technologies on the web are employed with customers knowing little or nothing about them, said Weinstein, who added that a recent Wall St. Journal investigation found some sites were quite intrusive, using more than 100 tracking tools on visitors. One of the best ways for people to protect their computers from viruses and malware is to keep their software up-to-date, as new exploits sometimes come in fast and furious, he added.

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