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Colbert skewers Google, Schmidt on privacy

In a criticism of Google's mining and selling of data, the comedian suggests Google and its CEO have made it so that even radical plastic surgery won't help you regain your privacy.

Perhaps privacy doesn't exist any more. Or, perhaps, as the highly incisive Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research New England suggests, we will have to find more sophisticated ways (and more sophisticated software) in order for everyone to understand what information should be made available and to whom.

Yet when the issue reaches the level of comedy, then you know it is truly serious. So this week, when Stephen Colbert decided on his "Colbert Report" to make Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt the rather public source of entertainment, what was most surprising was not the humorous way in which he wielded his scalpel. It was the quite numbing bite with which he ended the operation.

Colbert offered that social media's ubiquitous land and mind grab has meant that young people should simply stop being, well, young and people.

"The point is," he said, "the Internet is one giant resume. And under 'special skills' yours might list: getting high, keg stands, flashing your boobs, and multitasking."

Then he suggested that this was the reason Schmidt recently declared, quite tantalizingly, that young people should have the option to change their names.

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But changing your name, Colbert said, wouldn't really solve the problem when Google is developing facial-recognition software.

So your solution, kids, is to have plastic surgery, dump all your friends, family, associates, hangers-on and admirers. Oh, and "dump everything you've ever searched for on the Internet."

"Once all that's done, and you're a disfigured, nameless loner, you'll be the ideal job candidate," he said.

Strangely, it seems to me that quite a few people who have succeeded in business are, indeed, disfigured, nameless loners. And I am absolutely not referring to anyone in the tech world specifically when I say that.

So there is already something of a template for those young people with ambitions, goals, and an ability to make absolutely no mistakes whatsoever.

Colbert's last line, however, was touchingly grave: "Of course, there is one other answer. Google and Facebook could stop invasively data-mining and selling our private data to the highest bidder. But that would be asking them to change who they are. And that's not fair."

Once you've watched the clip, please lie down and tell you me how you feel. You don't need to tell me who you are, of course, but you can if you want to.