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Friday, December 3, 2010

Leaving Digital Fingerprints...

If its not bad enough that Google is busy making sure it knows who you are and what you think about there's always BlueCava.

BlueCava want's to fingerprint your devices.  Each and every cell phone, computers, TV DVR, Tivo, PDA, iPad, tablet, iPod, and on and on.  This means it will know exactly which device you are using and for what.

But before we get into what BlueCava is up to let's talk about your devices and you and why its so easy to do this.

First off, virtually all devices today use some form of TCP/IP communications protocol to access data over the internet.  TCP/IP is a protocol for devices to communicate.  The devices can be of almost any type so long as they use ethernet.  You'll recall in a recent post ("Are We There Yet") I discussed Xerox PARC, Bob Metcalfe, and ethernet.

Today's internet is really just an extension of this concept invented at Xerox PARC.  Ethernet is a physical communication and connection model for sending data over a wire.  TCP/IP was invented many years ago under DARPA. - Defense/Advanced Research Project Agency.

Long before the internet of today existed many research centers around the country were connected by ARPANET.  This was the first packet-switched network.  It allowed a number of remote research computers to communicate via dedicated communication lines.  It connected ancient computers like PDP-10's and Xerox Sigma systems together with IMP-16 communications processors.

As time when by TCP/IP was developed and tested in the same kind of environment.  This was around 1975.

However, the internet as we know it was not born until the late 1980's when TCP/IP and the physical ethernet invented by Xerox came together in technology used to connect remote as well as office computers.  Prior to this time office networking was done with other technologies like IBM Token Ring or Novell.  The TCP/IP world of communications existed in research facilities around the world but was not common for office or home use.  With the invention of the internet TCP/IP became mainstream.

All TCP/IP communications via ethernet use hardware with a unique address.  TCP/IP is itself somewhat like a party line in that all the devices talk on the same "line".  Each device is kept separate from the others by a unique address call the devices MAC address.  All the ethernet devices in the world, no matter whether they are in a phone, computer, iPad, etc. all have a UNIQUE MAC address.  In addition to a MAC address when you computer connects to the internet it may also have an IP address - which is a unique address assigned by whatever service you use to connect to the internet.  But this address can change from connection to connection so its not guaranteed to uniquely identify your device.

The bottom line is that BlueCava is busy identifying your MAC address (at least this is what I believe).  They call this the "unique DNA" of your computer.  Using this "DNA" its always exactly sure which device is talking to which other device.  That way the MAC address is just like your finger print - only better - because MAC address, unlike finger prints, are guaranteed to be unique (all manufactured network devices are assigned unique blocks of MAC addresses).

There are billions of MAC address and so far BlueCava has identified a few hundred million.

Doing this is trivial because each TCP/IP bit of data that goes around the internet contains your MAC address - practically screaming your name as it bounces around the world.

Why is BlueCava doing this?

This brings us to US Patent 5,490,216.  BlueCava's parent company owns this patent.  (You can see it here at Google/patents by searching for "US Patent 5,490,216")  Basically this is a a patent on licensing software.  The idea is that if you can uniquely identify someone's computer you can easily decide if that person should be allowed to run some specific piece of software. 

This patent has had a life of its own including a $388 million USD verdict for infringement by Microsoft (the case is still pending on appeal).

The bottom line is that this patent is what software licensing is all about.  Uniquely identifying your device and controlling the process that determines if your device can run some specific software.

I wouldn't be surprised if all of this patented technology was used by others, like Google, for the same reasons.  Once this case is decided for the '216 patent others will probably follow.

(Oh, don't worry, ha ha, if you want to "opt out" of all of this.  Supposedly there will be a way.  I'm sure it will work as well as the national "do not call" database.)

So BlueCava will know what devices you have and, no doubt, what you do with them: what sites you visit, when you visit them, what you do there.  This will be not just be limited to BlueCava - they will license technology and systems and data to anyone who wants to buy it: Google, Microsoft, anyone really.

As we discussed with the last post on Google this is all very valuable stuff as far as advertisers are concerned. 

So you've been fingerprinted.  If you're on this blog - we know who you are.  Soon we will know what you do - what your proclivities are, what time of day you read the news, if you sneak a peak at that naughty site your mother told you to never visit, who you call, when you call, how long you talk, what you buy, how you pay for it, how its shipped, what you buy, what your credit score is, and on and on and on.

If you have a cellphone with internet services they can couple your GPS location with this data as well.  Stop off at that "after hours club" last night?  Take a detour via a friends house your spouse doesn't know about?  Don't worry - all this will be available to anyone (like your ex's lawyer) willing to pay the price. 

(Thankfully every cellphone must have GPS these days - so we can all be safer - er, safer from what, exactly?)

Next will come associative software - we know you, now let's find everything linked to you - a picture, a post on Facebook, email, comments on blogs, and on and on and on.

In terms of privacy invasion the KGB and Nazi's certainly have nothing on this wonderful modern technology.

The only difference is this time we are marching willfully toward the slaughter...

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