Inside the Privacy Wars: The Data Hawks Vs the Data Doves

A hawk is somebody who wants to keep all the data and a dove is somebody who says no, we need to anonymize it. 

I encouraged Google to be very upfront about how they dealt with issues of privacy with Cookies and how long they were maintained and so forth.  But when I would talk to the engineers they would start saying well, it’s not that simple.  You can have encryption of queries, you can anonymize the queries, you can have encryption keys, and when they start talking about these things with regular users, as one of the engineers told me, their eyes just glaze over.  


Because it’s not as simple as saying we’re going to do this or we’re going to do that, and this would be protecting your privacy and doing this would not be protecting your privacy.  It’s a continuum and there are many different complicating technological factors that have to be considered. 

That said, I think Google has always been aware of privacy implications of what they do and the data that they have.  And I think they’ve always tried to be as careful as possible as custodians of that information.  But there is a tradeoff between deleting all that data, anonymizing it, making it unusable, and keeping it and using it to improve the performance of products.  

So an example of that is a spellchecker.  The spellchecker uses information from user data to improve the quality of the suggestions it makes when you misspell a word, and so that’s fairly valuable to a user.  I think we all take for granted “did you mean” in a query that we type in on our phones that isn’t quite correct and it corrects it for us automatically. 

But if Google were to anonymize all of its data it would be much harder to do that to improve products using that same kind of approach.  So the engineers looked at that tradeoff and some of them were more hawkish about keeping the data, and that’s a term they use to describe themselves—data hawks or data doves.  And a hawk is somebody who wants to keep all the data and a dove is somebody who says no, we need to anonymize it.  So it’s a constant internal debate about how much they should hold on to and for how long they should hold it. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less