Google: Making Cross Correlation Factually Fluffy General Tso Dish?a

September 15, 2018

I read “Google China Prototypes Links Searches to Phone Number”. This is one of those write ups which offers some possibly accurate information attributed to anonymous sources or “sources familiar with the project.”

Nifty. Nothing like anonymity.

But for the moment, let’s assume that queries from mobile devices are explicitly linked to the a specific mobile device. What’s the big deal?

According to the write up:

“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”

What I find interesting is that the Google China service would be a joint venture. That means that both parties to the deal can perform cross correlation from unencrypted, direct data flows from the individuals who use the alleged Google China search system.

From my point of view, those with these data streams could:

  • Identify patterns of behavior related to queries, locations, and purchases in real time
  • Use the sensor devices on the mobile devices to discern useful items of information; for example, pass codes
  • Make relationship maps which reveal who calls whom or who texts whom under what circumstances part of the normal data stream.

I can visualize a scenario in which Cambridge Analytica style reports about who is interested in what, when, and under what “circumstances” an action, event, or idea occurs.

I don’t have any anonymous sources to cite. I am just thinking about how difficult it is to determine what’s accurate and what’s a confection spun by a fictionist like Alastair Reynolds.

Speculation is fun and easy. Maybe not accurate? Slight downside. But “real” journalism is almost as interesting as revelation space. But if the write up is accurate, Google may be operating in a galaxy far, far away from Harrod’s Creek and its outmoded ideas about objective search.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2018

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