GeneralPrivacy and the Internet

My privacy and pervasive technology

Or, why you won’t find me on Facebook

I confess – I don’t understand those who want to make their personal lives, public.  Some people revel in splashing every sordid detail of their existence across Facebook pages.  And, it’s not just hormone-fueled, intellectually stunted teenagers who do it.  It seems that normal, sane adults who would never dream of sidling up to a stranger in a parking lot and flashing photographs of that intoxicated binge in Vegas last weekend, are happy to do so on Facebook.

Privacy – the right to control your personal information

Privacy is the right to control information about yourself – the right to decide what personal information you will share with others, and what information you will keep secret.  The right to privacy is an inalienable right that goes to the root of the dignity and self-worth of every individual.  Your personal information defines who you are, and  the theft, or misuse, of your personal information is an affront.

Everything we do creates a trail of electronic data

In today’s Internet-connected, electronic society, there is more to your personal information than was the case 100, 20 or even 5 years ago.  Many of our day-to-day activities create an electronic trail of where we have been and what we have done.  The point is, almost everything we do creates information, or data, that is captured, saved, sifted, analyzed, and sold.  Everything from where we spend money and what we buy, what we watch on television, the searches we do on the Internet, where we buy gas, how we pay our bills, which credit cards we have, where we park, which movies we watch, and everything we post on Facebook or Twitter (or any other site) is saved, indexed, searched, and sold.

Loyalty rewards – maybe not so free

People sign up for loyalty reward cards (AirMiles, for example) thinking that they are getting something for nothing.  Not so.  Every retailer who gives you AirMiles has to purchase them, and simply passes the cost of them along to you, the consumer, via higher prices.  Then, the company that administers the loyalty scheme, collects, collates, and sells the data generated through the use of the loyalty card.  Everything that you buy is tracked if you use a rewards card, and that data is sold by the loyalty rewards provider.  The provider gets it both ways – the merchant pays for the points they give out “for free”, and the buyers of the data pay handsomely for it.

Who loses?  You do.  You pay more for everything you purchase, and you allow every purchase you make to be tracked, aggregated, collated, and sold.

Do you subscribe to Netflix?  How do you think Netflix knows what shows to recommend to you?  It tracks your viewing habits.  And how does Amazon know what other purchases to recommend when you search for anything on their site?  Amazon tracks your (and everyone else’s) searching and purchasing history.  How does Google anticipate what you are searching for and start giving you search results before you have even finished typing?  You guessed it!

Have you ever wondered why anyone would want to give you a free email account?  That’s right – as soon as you sign up for a free email account with gmail, or any other provider, the first thing they do is sell your email address.  Your email address, along with your name, postal or zip code, age, address, sex, cell phone number, etc. is valuable information, and it’s out of your control as soon as you sign up for that “free” email address.  And, by the way, every time you use your free email account to send an email, the company captures the email addresses of the recipients, and sells these as well.  So, you’re not doing your friends any favours either when you email them from your gmail account!

“Privacy” policies are anything but

Websites are notoriously bad for violating your privacy.  Have you ever read any of their so-called “privacy” policies?  They amount to an agreement between you and the owner of the website that says, in exchange for letting you see their content, they can sell the information gleaned from your visit, to anyone they want.  That’s why, for example, if you go onto the Wayfair website and search for lamps, you will be dogged with ads for lamps every time you use the Internet for the next three weeks!

I’m told that Google has a program that schools use to track students’ progress and allow access to homework assignments, etc.  The “privacy” policy for that program allows Google to track students, retain their data, and use it as they see fit.  How invasive is that?  Imagine a parent giving away personal information on his or her infant child, for no reason!  There is no privacy!

Microsoft and Apple offer cloud storage services.  How safe is your data when it’s stored in the cloud?  Both these companies routinely and rigorously screen the information that is stored on their cloud servers.  Your Internet service provider logs data on everything you do.  So does your cell phone company.  Cell phone companies even keep detailed data on where you are any time you make a call or send a text message (or at least which segment of which cell phone tower your phone is pinging off).

The Internet of Things is used to track you

The Internet of Things (“IoT”) compounds the problem.  More personal information about your activities, your schedule, your preferences, your habits, is tracked.  Your vehicle keeps tabs on your driving.  The list is almost endless.

Am I some kind of conspiracy nut?

And no, I d not wear a tin foil hat or have radio transmitters in my fillings.  But I do take my privacy seriously.

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