Privacy, Perception and Google

When I was at the AAS215 early this week I had an interesting conversation with Stefano Casertano (a scientist at STScI).

I have known Stefano in person since I joined STScI (6 years ago this past Jan 6th), but I knew of his since 1991 when I read many of his papers on galaxy rotation curves. One of them, in particular stuck with me for the great analysis of the rotation curve of NGG 5907. I remember that I wrote a small piece of code to reproduce his figure 2

At any rate, Stefano argues, like many, that Google is far from the "don't do evil" company some of us think is it (at least sometimes). He is worried, and in some instances rightfully so, about privacy and the fact that Google seems to be marching toward a Microsoft-style domination in areas of information that are indeed at the forefont of issues related to privacy.

So I started to think what if all my 6+GB of email would be suddenly released in the open for everyone to read? They contain information about me, my life, my emotions, my work, my madness, my love life, my lack of patience and my ideas for changing how astronomy should take advantage of other disciplines in the areas of data mining and data retrieval.

It's true that some of the content of my email, or my search patterns would perhaps embarrass me for some time, and perhaps cause me a lot of trouble for a period of time that I have a hard time quantifying. At the same time I know that whenever I am online I assume my privacy is rather limited and I accept this fact.

In any case, it was an interesting conversation. If you are reading this please do share your comments!

#aas #aas215

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