opinion

Piercing the Veil of Privacy

Stephen Yagielowicz

The adult entertainment industry has always valued its privacy, with the majority of owners, operators, talent and more, all choosing to obscure their identity and location through the use of false identities — a trend that carries on today, with porn performers, producers and studios seeking secrecy, while adult message board and social media posters continue to use “fake nicks” as their primary online identifiers.

For those of us using our real identities, some of these issues can be disconcerting — such as when I visit a site for the first time, but there’s my smiling face on an avatar image in an article’s comments section, asking for my opinion — and an invitation to log in using my Facebook account to do so. Shattering any illusions of privacy, today’s online experience — and business in general — is far less anonymous than it once was perceived to be.

Google isn’t satisfied with simply knowing what you’re doing online; it continues to grab enormous amounts of data from the real world to add to its ever expanding (and intrusive) database.

One example of this is in the banking world, where the repercussions of “know your customer” (KYC) laws have made illicit transactions, money laundering and tax evasion, much harder for average thugs — and for more than a few adult webmasters. This crackdown on cash flow has no doubt helped to fuel the increasing popularity of cryptocurrency among less law abiding operators, but it is not the only example of how the veil of privacy is being pierced online today.

While this next example is at the nexus of privacy and piracy, it is also troubling to many in the online marketing space: the emphasis that search giant Google has come to place on whois transparency, which seeks to identify the true owner of a website through its official “who is [domain]?” registration. This is personally identifying information that more than a few adult website owners have falsified in an attempt to cover their tracks — either to avoid social stigma if it was known they own a porn company, or because they may have nefarious plans to defraud their affiliates, consumers and service providers.

Although fraudulent whois info for adult websites may be less common today as it was in the past due to the corporatization of porn, Google’s advocacy of accountability continues beyond this playing field into another area that can help authorized content providers while hurting pirates and unauthorized posters of this material: establishing the authorship and copyright of online content. This is made easier through technology, including special meta tags and HTML 5 coding that identify web documents as the original source of the content — a claim that’s backed up through whois analysis and other techniques.

By establishing authorship, search engines can properly credit the original source of a particular piece of content, whether it is audio, textual or visual. For example, this article may be translated into multiple languages and appear in whole or in part on other websites, with or without my knowledge. Authorship allows search engines to know that this is an original article that I wrote for XBIZ — and reflect this fact when it comes time to deliver search results on this topic. This way the source of content is rewarded, while piracy and other non-source duplication is suppressed in the search results.

If potential purchasers only find genuine content, then the monetary motivation to copy and distribute non-unique content is diminished.

Google has continued this process of authorship and transparency of ownership further into the website realm with its recent announcement that sites with an SSL security certificate would receive preferential treatment in its search engine listings. Such a move was anticipated by some observers after Google’s search engine itself was switched from standard HTTP to the more secure (and identifiable) HTTPS space — (also known as HTTP over TLS, or transport layer security) for its own use.

Individually, these measures do not seem like a big deal, but collectively they represent a piercing of the perceived veil of anonymity provided by the Internet and site owners will fall into line, because Google’s love is a key factor in content discovery — you can have the world’s best content, offer or site, but if consumers don’t know about it, it won’t make money.

Between KYC on the financial side and limited opportunities on the content discovery side through penalized search rankings (due to Google’s determination that you are not who you say you are), hiding is not as easy as it once was.

Google isn’t satisfied with simply knowing what you’re doing online; it continues to grab enormous amounts of data from the real world to add to its ever expanding (and intrusive) database.

One example comes from Google’s highly controversial “Street View” project that seeks to photograph basically everything — including your home and place of business — serving up photos from every angle in response to requests by anonymous users of Google’s market-leading search engine. If you think that staying away from cities will protect you from Google’s prying eyes, note that in addition to its specially equipped automobiles, the company reportedly also uses a fleet of boats, tricycles and other vehicles to access, analyze and record areas that are unreachable by car.

While Google Earth has long provided a bird’s-eye view of the planet from space, the launch last month of a new satellite that more than doubles the resolution of existing commercial satellites, allows service provider DigitalGlobe to deliver photos of unprecedented quality from 363 miles up in space, to its clients down here on earth — including information mongers and search engine operators, Google and Microsoft.

Able to identify objects as small as 10-inches across, the high resolution of the Worldview-3 satellite may provide enough detail to identify faces from orbit — and if not, the next generation of satellites certainly will. With the sophistication of current commercial facial recognition systems (such as the one used by Facebook to scan user-uploaded images) approaching near perfection, and having countless images to rely upon for comparison, forget the fears of Big Brother watching you — anyone using the social media service or search engines may be able to find you and monitor your activities in near real-time.

It is one more piece in the puzzle of developing a comprehensive behavior matrix of individual people: including who you are, who you know, what you like and dislike, and what you buy, where and when — information that is not only useful to any government agency trying to locate you, but to any merchant seeking a targeted audience — with your own personal privacy not being a consideration in the process.

Information has always meant money and power, but in the past, you usually had to volunteer that data — and espionage, I mean, “data collection,” was something that only corporations and governments did amongst themselves — a situation that has changed dramatically as the proliferation of online consumer data that is ready to be mined, puts you in the bullseye of a pierced veil of perceived privacy.

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