The recent fuss about The NSA and GCHQ allegedly spying on Second Life users largely made me go “meh”. I mean this is what I expect those agencies to do and I really can’t see any way of stopping them doing it. However there is a level whereby I feel protestations about intrusive behaviour could work, that’s at levels way below the security agencies, it’s with tech companies.
AT&T are, according to Gigaom, rolling out a new gigabit service in Austin in two flavours. Premier, for USD$70 a month and Standard, for USD$99 a month. The terminology sounds odd, with premier being the cheaper option. However here’s the catch, the cheaper option means you need to agree to being part of AT&T preferences, which is targeted advertising, or as AT&T themselves explain:
“U-verse with GigaPower Premier offer is available with your agreement to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences. AT&T may use your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests. ”
So basically for the cheaper option, you sell your browsing habits it seems. This idea isn’t new, websites with advertising will often have the option to turn off the adverts for a fee. However it’s still very creepy.
When the recent hoo-ha broke about the spies it wasn’t the NSA or GCHQ involvement I found creepy, nor was it Linden Lab talking to the NSA about virtual worlds. The NY Times article claims that Cory Ondrejka was the senior Linden exec involved and reports:
“In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance.
He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement.”
That all sounds very reasonable to me, Cory seems to be using his knowledge of his old industry and showing them the power of virtual worlds, it’s the next part of the article where it all goes a bit tits up:
“It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.””
That’s where it all gets a bit creepy.