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Moooom, Daaaad, Google's being weird again!
February 23, 2011 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Google's Doodle-4-Google program, where kids can design a variation of the company's homepage logo, is creating a bit of stir this year with the requirement of the child's social security number.

A Google spokesperson has the following reply (from the linked article):
This year we started accepting doodles from kids even if their school hadn't registered for the contest. To help us keep entries distinct and remove duplicate entries from any particular student, we asked parents for limited information, including the last 4 digits of a student's social security number. We later updated our forms when we recognized that we could sufficiently separate legitimate contest entries while requesting less information. To be clear, these last 4 digits were not entered into our records and will be safely discarded.
As for the city of birth:

The city of birth helps us identify whether contestants are eligible for the contest, as winners must be either U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents of the U.S. The information isn't used for any other purpose.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (37 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
They already changed the form to not collect that. I think this is StupidLawyerFilter, not OutrageFilter.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:27 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's the next wave of capitalist development - the world are children will grow up in - the expropriation and sale of their identity.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 7:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


.... last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?
posted by Addiction at 7:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


So first of all, the headline is inaccurate. Only the last four digits were requested, not the entire number. Secondly, as the reply shows, it was a legitimate request (prevent duplicate entries) that was changed once some tin-foil-topped blogger freaked out.

Once again the "think of the children" crowd grabs headlines and hyperventilates in public.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure "biggest data warehouse in the world asks kids for personal info" is necessarily in the tinfoil category.
posted by DU at 7:36 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


.... last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?

It's mentioned in the second link.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2011


.... last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?

I was also going to blow off the outrage over providing the last four digits of their SSN, but a 2009 Wired article depicts guessing SSNs as a rather simple mathematical challenge.
By analyzing a public data set called the “Death Master File,” which contains SSNs and birth information for people who have died, computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University discovered distinct patterns in how the numbers are assigned. In many cases, knowing the date and state of an individual’s birth was enough to predict a person’s SSN.

With just two attempts, the researchers correctly guessed the first five digits of SSNs for 60 percent of deceased Americans born between 1989 and 2003.

...

“A botnet can be programmed to try variations of a Social Security number to apply for an instant credit card,” Acquisti said. “In 60 seconds, these services tell you whether you are approved or not, so they can be abused to tell whether you’ve hit the right social security number.”
So handing out the last four and the DOB, it's a lot easier to figure out the first five and get a good starting point to test out online. Intriguing.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?

Apparently there is some fear that with DOB, and home town they can guess the first 5 digits? Doesn't quite compute with me because my brother and I filed for our SS numbers at the exact same time yet our first 5 digits are pretty different.
posted by muddgirl at 7:38 AM on February 23, 2011


And it's mentioned in a linked article in the second link. Thanks, Brandon.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2011


muddgirl, my take-away from the Wired article is that it's easier with some basic information, and the data can be tested at one of thousands of sites pretty easily. Enter the botnet, and SSNs are validated quickly and easily. But that sounds like a bit of work, when there are easier routes to stealing identities right now.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2011


Look, it's simple: if you don't want Google to literally own your children, don't use a computer. If youwant to search for things online, draw pictures, or write the word "Google", then yes, they have every right to take your children.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


City of birth is not really useful in determining a child's citizenship or immigration status unless you simply assume everyone not born in the US is not a citizen or permanent resident.

Stay classy Google...
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2011


last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?

I don't want anyone to know any of the digits of my SSN if I can help it -- last four or not. That's whhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.
posted by blucevalo at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


.... last 4 is important beccaaauuuussseee?
Well, first of all as others mentioned the last four digits have the most entropy, but there's another issue.

It seems like since the trend of not asking for peoples SSNs because it could be used for identity theft, everyone has been asking for for the last four digits which means, of course you now only need the last four digits for identity theft!

In other words, all that's happened has been to replace a 9-digit ID code with a 4-digit ID code that works almost everywhere.

Social security card numbers have become a sort of ID number and they never really should have. If I were dictator, I would have everyone change their SSN every four years, or more frequently if if they felt like it. It should only be used for calculating social security payments.

In fact, I would argue that there is no reason anyone should have a unique government identifier that's shared with non-government parties. Is there anything good (for the individual) that can come from having an identity key that can be easily shared, crosschecked, etc?
posted by delmoi at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


They're so cute when they learn how to creatively shill for megacorporations.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2011


If I were dictator, I would have everyone change their SSN every four years, or more frequently if if they felt like it.

You'd make a terrible dictator, just sayin'.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


A national, commercial database of names and addresses of American children, especially one that includes their dates of birth and SSNs, would be worth many millions to marketing firms and retailers.

How exactly would SSNs make a marketing database more profitable?
posted by burnmp3s at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2011


Is there anything good (for the individual) that can come from having an identity key that can be easily shared, crosschecked, etc?

Well sure, tons of good. Medical care, for instance (since that is sadly not a government function). Mail delivery (also sadly no longer a government function).

The problem isn't the identifier. The problem is that corporations in control of government and accountable to almost no one get to define the game and dictate the terms of use.
posted by DU at 7:54 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How exactly would SSNs make a marketing database more profitable?

I was wondering the exact same thing - wouldn't that only be useful for identity theft or fraud? Even this pageview-pandering post doesn't accuse Google of going there, but still tries to cry wolf.
posted by pahalial at 7:57 AM on February 23, 2011


We'll never know why they collected this data. In the end, it boils down to whether or not you believe if Google were collecting this information to sell later on. We can bicker about that for ages as the evil & stupid counterarguments are neither provable nor unbelievable.

FWIW, I think this is a simple mistake. Gaining a small sliver of information for a minute fraction of a future population isn't worth deploying the black helicopters for.
posted by seanyboy at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2011


Is there anything good (for the individual) that can come from having an identity key that can be easily shared, crosschecked, etc?

How's the weather in Montana? And how are you posting to the Internet?
posted by yerfatma at 8:02 AM on February 23, 2011


I wondered why my toddler has been getting collection notices from Chase about a credit card in her name. I looked at the itemized purchases and there's no way a two-year-old in Boston would buy a Sun E25000 server in the Bay Area.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I find it curious that he starts the article with a bit of self-promotion.

Oh wait, this is huffpost, isn't it?
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 8:09 AM on February 23, 2011


I'm not sure "biggest data warehouse in the world asks kids for personal info" is necessarily in the tinfoil category.

The last 4 digits of SSN hardly classifies as personal info. Just because it can be correlated in a vague way, doesn't make it individually identifiable. For that matter, your last name correlates in a general way to your place of birth.

If you read any articles on the Google Doodle program, it's clear that it's a tiny team with no connection to AdSense, DoubleClick, etc.

Believe me, if Google (or any other corporation, for that matter) wanted to harvest that kind of information, they could do it in far more effective ways.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bit of a stir = not created
posted by swift at 8:16 AM on February 23, 2011


I looked at the itemized purchases and there's no way a two-year-old in Boston would buy a Sun E25000 server in the Bay Area.

Late bloomer, eh?
posted by kmz at 8:23 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looking at the Google logos created since the doodling started is worth your time, if only for the logo versions for special occasions celebrated elsewhere. For example, Shackleton's birthday in the UK.
posted by misha at 8:58 AM on February 23, 2011


The part that I dislike is that this limited to American kids in the first place. The Internet is bigger than that and there are a lot of Google kids around the world who I'm sure would love just the chance to win a life-changing scholarship.

I realize that there's a hefty prize involved and all sorts of tax and legal issues related to fairness in competitions, but surely it's in the realm of possibility for corporation like Google to figure out a way to work with those limitations and offer a global competition? Willy Wonka was able to do it. Come on, Google!
posted by rh at 9:00 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


> If I were dictator, I would have everyone change their SSN every four years, or more
> frequently if if they felt like it.

delmoi, I don't think you'd have much fun as overlord, evil or otherwise. If I were dictator I'd make everybody wear their underpants on their heads.
posted by jfuller at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You 'tators don't seem so hardcore.
posted by chavenet at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2011


A proper dictator makes his citizens pay into his social security account, preferably while chanting a slogan wishing death on his enemies.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2011


Who among us hasn't hoped that Google would take possession of our children?
posted by Nattie at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2011


isn't worth deploying the black helicopters for.

Besides, the wait time for a GHelicopter is absurd. Total bait-and-switch benefits, I bet Facebookers have all the robot spy drones they want...
posted by wildcrdj at 12:08 PM on February 23, 2011


Yup. I've got mine right outside your window right now.
posted by Samizdata at 2:20 PM on February 23, 2011


FWIW, I think this is a simple mistake

It's easy to make mistakes when you're asking children for private information.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:41 PM on February 23, 2011


Ironically, if you guys really had a nationwide identity system in the US, it would probably reduce ID fraud because all it would take is a single lookup to prove that the person who stole your ID is not, in fact, you.
posted by Xany at 5:48 AM on February 24, 2011


Seriously guys, we have got to stop linking to HuffPo. It's not real news. It's content aggregation that sensationalizes everything just to ramp page views. Why are we feeding the trolls that are fucking up the internet?

To paraphrase Jon Stewart; "Stop it. You're hurting the internet. Just. Stop."
posted by dejah420 at 6:20 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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