BY GREGORY CONTI
TAKE DOWN A
Everything we do online is known and knowable and can be combined with
everything else that is known and knowable.
In the August 1984 Communications, Ken Thompson taught us to question our notion of trust,
recognizing that even our most carefully crafted code might not generate trustworthy exe-
cutable programs if the compiler is compromised [ 5]. Looking to the future, however, I realize
Thompson didn’t go far enough. Today, we must question our trust in all aspects of the infor-
mation environment, including online companies and even the infrastructure of the Internet.
We live in an era of rampant data disclosure and ubiquitous implied trust—two factors that will
come to haunt us in the near future.
We disclose sensitive and ultimately personally identifiable information to our
Internet service providers (ISPs) and
favorite online organizations of every
type and purpose each time we sit down at the computer. Don’t believe me? Imagine if Google, Yahoo, or
MSN aggregated and mined every search query emanating from your corporate IP space and every email
containing your corporate domain name. Strategic
plans, blackmailable material, health concerns, and
social networks would all emerge. We are placing
unprecedented power in the hands of the most popular online companies and ISPs, along with thousands
of others, and there will come a time when it will be
difficult or impossible to wrest back that power.
Could Googling take down a president, prime
minister, congressman, or senator? The question is
provocative but worth considering as we face the near
future of trust and privacy. Googling1 is an integral
1By Googling I mean the full spectrum of free online tools and services (such as
search, mapping, email, Web-based word processing and calendaring).