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Planned stupidity?

By Scott Bradner

Every survey I have seen of Internet users says that the thing they worry about the most on the Internet is not losing their credit card number, it is losing their privacy. This is not a secret. So why do we keep seeing announcements of yet another company going out if its way to make sure Internet users continue to worry about this?

I used to think that traffic engineers, at least the ones that dealt with traffic patterns around highway construction were an extraordinarily stupid and callous lot. How else could one explain behavior patterns that seemed to defy all logic. Just how much deep thought should it take to realize that painting a median strip guardrail during morning rush hour is likely to make about a bizzilion drivers late for work?

But I've recently changed my mind and am starting to develop a grudging admiration for these people. I have had an epiphany. These people are too good at bad planning for it to be accidental. They must have had training. There must be classes in traffic disruption in traffic engineering schools. I can think of no other explanation that fits the empirical evidence. I will admit that I've run across a few cases where the planning engineer must have barely squeaked through traffic disruption class. Traffic flowed too well through the construction site. But more often I've experienced situations where the engineer must have taken an advanced degree in the topic. Like 2 years ago in California where there was a 2 mile long, 2 lane blockage for a 50 foot long and 4 foot wide construction site.

There is still a lot of highway construction going on but I think that some of these highly trained engineers have started to branch out and taken consulting jobs at companies like DoubleClick.

How else can one explain their recent activities? First they promise that they will protect your privacy and never link surfing activity to individual identification like email addresses. Then they turn around and do exactly that. This gets them written up in newspapers around the world as the personification of the privacy invasion business. One would think that DoubleClick's privacy statement, which is easy to get to from their web page (, would mitigate the user's fears but it is 1657 words long, 3.5 times as long as this column. It takes a lot of words to be as unclear and condescending as that statement.

According to a press release, DoubleClick has now "launched a major advertising campaign to further educate consumers on their privacy choices" and has created a "new executive level position of Chief Privacy Officer". A career opportunity for a traffic engineer with an advanced degree?

disclaimer: I've not been able to find the above courses in the Harvard catalogue but I'm sure we would do a good job if we tried. Until then the above deduction is my own.