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Dec. 24 2009 - 10:10 am | 45 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Would Santa want his elves working at Google or Facebook?


Surveillance Santa

“Santa Clause is Coming to Town” was one of my favorite holiday songs growing up, even though the lyrics are a bit ominous. Jolly St. Nick helps kids get used to the idea of living in a surveillance society:

He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out
who’s naughty or nice.

Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

I imagine that Santa has progressed with the times. I hope that he feeds his reindeer organic carrots, has a hybrid sleigh, and makes use of Google alerts for monitoring kids’ behavior. But I wonder: if he had to choose between Google and Facebook for planting his elf spies, where would he want them in order to learn the most about our naughty behavior? In other words, which company knows more about us?

Facebook knows who our friends are, which is very revealing. In fact, your friends list can reveal your sexual and political orientation. Depending on how much is in a person’s “About Me” page, the elves could determine the music and movies they like, where they live, and where they’ve worked. And of course, Facebook has lots of dirt on us in the form of photos. And I don’t know about Santa, but I judge a person based on how many of those stupid quizzes they take in a day.

Google, on the other hand, knows what we search for. And what we click on. Elves at Google could search through our archives of hundred, thousands, and maybe millions of emails. Google knows who our friends are too. And professional contacts. And random acquaintances. And everyone we’ve ever communicated with via Craigslist. If you use Picasa, it has access to your photos. If you use Calendar, it knows what you’re up to day to day. And if you have a YouTube account, it knows what you’ve been watching.

All in all, I’d say Santa would get better intel from elves at Google. Those who have been naughty might be alarmed by Tony Bradley’s take on Google vs. Facebook at PC World:

The difference between Facebook and Google as it relates to privacy is that Facebook appears to listen to concerns and respond by implementing changes to try and address issues, while Google seems to be dismissive. The Google response is to just stress why you should trust it, or why you shouldn’t care about privacy.

In a CNBC interview, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained his stance on online privacy “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines –including Google –do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

In other words, Schmidt is saying:

You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why.


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  1. collapse expand

    When I saw that I cringed, than I thought he is really saying if you do something stupid don’t blame us, but who knows how to take what he said, they should have pushed harder in that area, she seemed dumbfounded, caught off-guard. He is a snooty guy I thought. Love those lyrics, Merry Christmas!

  2. collapse expand

    Someone who keeps insisting that he’s trustworthy is about as reassuring as a beefy guy telling me that he’s “not a violent guy.”
    Even less reassuring when essentially stating that “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”…
    FWIW, I told the kids that Santa has a hidden camera in the Christmas Tree Star that can see the entire house.

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    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

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