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February 8, 2009

Case in point related to privacy and persistence topics

Since I was just talking about this, I thought it relevant to call out a couple of recent stories that made the rounds in January.

First on the Privacy side, there is news that American Express is now evaluating the stores you shop at and changing your credit limit and/or interest rate based on where you shop. Here’s the story about a person who was impacted by this following what he believes was a single trip to Walmart using his AmEx card. This is truly the ugly side of data mining.

Not to alarm you (although you should not only be alarmed but up in arms) but, folks this is just a taste of what’s to come.

Another interesting story that drifted through the aether to my attention courtesy of BoingBoing is directly related to the idea of persistence biting people in the ass.

Many years ago when just about every Windows user was using Napster to download and share music on the Internet, combined with most new PCs shipping with the MP3 Player software, Music Match Jukebox (both programs are now defunct). Many users would configure both Music Match and Napster to share the same folder for audio files. Then at some point they might use the built in “record from microphone” feature of Music Match to make up their songs, audio diaries, rants, you name it. The default file name for these recordings was “Mic in Track”.

A friend of mine who was playing with social disruption and marketing to promote his own music on Napster via a process he called “Culture Jamming” discovered something interesting. Careless (and some not so careless) users had left thousands of Mic in Track audio files on their PCs for anyone to download. Mark talked about this on his site (even putting up a couple of his favorites to download) at the time and it became a rich source of oddness for those with the patience to bother downloading the tracks. This was not a passive activity when you consider that in the mid nineties the majority of the Internet was still connected via 28.8 to 56k speed modems.

Which brings me to the contemporary story that made the rounds last month. Apparently one of the people out there (David Dixon) who learned of the Mic in Track phenomenon took it upon himself to download all of the files he could find. What makes this story relevant to the persistence angle is that David has published dozens of these Mic in Track files on his website.

Here we are now ten years later and for some poor souls that audio track of thier youthful exuberance (or disturbing screed) that was carelessly recorded on their computer for giggles may have committed their act to the ages. You can read a story about David on the LAWeekly site. Or more directly, David’s site holds dozens of his favorite tracks available for download. He has even released a compilation of greatest hits.

Granted there is probably a copyright issue here. Even though these people who recorded these tracks carelessly left them exposed for download, technically they still own the copyright to their creations. Unless David secured their permissions to reproduce their audio recording, I would say he probably doesn’t have any standing to be redistributing these tracks.

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