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Pogue and Paranoia

In a recent post, Free Speech Recognition, David Pogue questioned whether the poor ratings of an iPhone app were because users need to upload to the company information that they considered private with the potential that the company would then in some way misue that information. He commented on similar concerns that have surfaced around Gmail.

But Pogue's observation is right on target:

What I don’t understand is: Why don’t these same people worry that Verizon or AT&T is listening in to their cellphone calls every single day? Why don’t they worry that MasterCard is peeking into their buying habits? How do they know Microsoft and Apple aren’t slurping down private documents off the hard drive and laughing their heads off?

I mean, if you’re gonna be paranoid, at least be rational about it. 

I know folks who refuse to make an online purchase for fear of their credit card number being stolen. These are the same people who happily say that number over the telephone or give their credit card physically to shady looking waiters who disappear with it.*

It's always seemed to me that the world would be much improved if everyone throughout their lives were required to go back to school one week each year just to learn some very practical kinds of things. The first class** I would require would be "Understanding and Managing Online Risks." Why is sending your social security in respons to an email back to a bank you've never heard of not a good idea, but buying something from Amazon with your Visa is pretty safe? Why is it unlikely that mysterious people are reading all your boring e-mails, but why should you worry about sending an e-mail out that slams your boss? Is it safer to keep your photos on your home computer or on Flickr?

If only they would put ME in charge of the world!

*OK, I'll admit my personal paranoia demands that I only use a "cookie-free" browser to search for travel bargains since I've heard travel companies use cookie records to see how desparate you are for that booking.

** Other classes would include

  • Why You are Menace to Yourself and Others Using a Cellphone While Driving
  • Why Drinking Mountain Dew All Day Long is Not Good for You
  • How to Help Your Kids with Their Homework Without Actually Doing It for Them

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Reader Comments (7)

I'm just paranoid of squirrels. Damn scary critters when they get that close.

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Why driving 10 MPH in the left lane is a bad idea...

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLen

I am consistently paranoid in all facets of life. I have the tinfoil hat to prove it. To someone. But not you. And why are you asking for my "Author URL"?

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Doyle


It's the ones with the telephoto lenses that you never see that are the worst.



Why driving in the left lane unless you are PASSING is a bad idea!


Hi Michael,

The voices from my toaster wanted to know your URL. And they are right about most things.


December 12, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

An application shouldn't copy data from your computer/phone to a server without your knowledge or consent, without explicitly telling you at least once that this is happening. Web apps are a different category since you can tell you're working in a browser and should be used to the idea that all of this is not happening on your computer -- also iirc, most if not all browsers give you a warning the first time you use a web form -- "hey, you're uploading data to a server."

This is particularly important to criticize because I don't think it is illegal, but more of a community norm. Look at the three main OS platforms now. There are technical reasons that Windows has historically been more dangerous to users, but as John Gruber has argued, a lot of the problem is that Windows users simply accept bad behavior by developers, whereas Mac (and Linux) users do not.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Pogue's quote seems to assume that all these choices -- whether or not to use the iPhone app, the credit card, a cell phone -- have the same costs and benefits. Obviously, it is much easier for me to live my life without a specific smartphone app than it would be to swear off credit cards or cell phones entirely, and my decisions reflect that.

I set my browser settings to be much more secure than most, because my geekiness makes that a less costly burden to deal with. If I go to a site that requires JavaScript or cookies, I know how to quickly enable it for that site. For people who don't know the details of such a setup, it's much easier for them to just leave JS and cookies on all the time.

Usually, these decisions are made without complete information. Do non-geeky people know the risks they take with their computer? Of course not. I like to fix problems that stem from lack of information......but sometimes I like to take a step back and marvel that, despite everything we don't know, things really tend to work out OK.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Hi Tom,

Good point. At least knowing one's data is being shared/used/uploaded is a good start toward some degree of integrity.


Hi Dave,

I'd suggest the importance of these devices is quite a relative thing. My son would give up his credit card before his cell phone, I'm sure.


December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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