The mariner admits he is a privacy advocate. It stems from his first job in computer systems: he was responsible for a corporation’s system and data backups. Security was an aspect of the job. Throughout his career in systems, he was aware of the power of information in the automated world. The mariner has written many times about the disappearance of privacy.
Generally, the younger generations have less or no concern about individual privacy in exchange for the toys, correspondence, convenience, and social media. In this post, the mariner asks a few questions to demonstrate the kind of control and abuse a computer can impose on your personal life.
Assuming that most folks eventually will order groceries online, the grocery store wants to know your shopping preferences. At least grocery stores are willing to pay for this information with discounts on gasoline or sale prices. With your history of purchases, two things occur: first, the grocery store can trim its inventory overhead by providing only those items you are likely to buy. This seems reasonable but you will be offered fewer options to buy other items unless the grocery store wants to show them to you. It will be to the store’s advantage to offer only those items or brands they want you to see.
Second, you cannot price shop; the options are offered via the Internet showing the grocery store’s pricing to you, the individual buyer. Are your prices the same as everyone else’s? Are your prices competitive with other grocery stores? Will your income, bank balance or credit score determine how much you can buy? You have traded independence for convenience; you have surrendered private shopping preferences to anyone who wants to see them for their own purposes. Mariner wonders whether a shopper has lost control of grocery shopping decisions.
Anyone who owns a computer today, whether it’s a PC or the multitude of handheld devices, has experienced unwanted popups and other advertisements that almost trap the reader into making a purchase – wanted or not. How many inexperienced folks have bought computer cleaning software because they couldn’t get rid of the popup? Further, have you noticed that advertisements and email for automobiles are limited? They are limited because the seller knows your credit score, your entire history of auto purchases, and your income.
A store clerk will not see ads from Cadillac and Tesla; more likely, it will be Kia and Mitsubishi Mirage. On the surface, this limit of choices seems innocuous; on the other hand, someone else is deciding what car you will buy. In a subtle way, someone else is telling you what you can’t buy. Can’t is the operative word: today, interest rates are based on risk – not only your credit score but if the store clerk is buying a Cadillac, the interest will be higher because a Cadillac doesn’t fit the clerk’s profile.
Banks know your credit situation before they send you an offer for another credit card. Is your credit score high? You have the opportunity for a higher line of credit and many credit options; if your credit score is low, your line of credit will be low and your interest rate higher. You actually have little choice in the matter; the full array of credit card choices is not shown – someone else has selected your card for you.
The mariner receives thousands of junk email from boat suppliers, hardware companies, woodworking companies and especially plant nurseries. How do all these retailers know about the mariner’s propensity for boat, shop and gardening? The businesses have two external sources: they buy customer lists from other businesses and they buy from the worst lot of them all, the companies that control your access to the Internet.
That brings us to Google – the worst thief of the bunch that, usually without your knowledge or any recompense, takes your personal life and makes large profits selling that information to anyone who wants it. Why do others want your information? They want to live your life for you – using their products, of course.
I mentioned in a post a few years ago that I had written an email using an AOL account; Google was my link to the Internet. In that email, I used the word “depression.” The next day, when I launched Google, three separate ads for psychiatrists appeared. Google reads our mail even if we don’t use gmail. Google knows everything. It knows the brand, model and configuration of your device; it knows every website you ever visited; Google knows all the information available through government agencies like your birth certificate, driver license, social security number, and all your insurance policies. Google denies its obsession to know everything about everyone. Google says they don’t read people’s mail – but their computers do and the computers sort, select and bundle your information to obtain the highest price from information buyers.
Another growing use of your personal data is psychological evaluation. By cross-matching your computer activity over time, Google (and anyone wanting to pay for it) can determine the status of your life. The mariner knows for a fact that Google can deduce you had an increase in pay from your purchasing patterns; Google can deduce that a divorce is imminent; Google knows your political disposition and can determine who you will vote for by cross-matching the shows and channels you prefer on television, the neighborhood you live in, the car you own, your arrest record…need the mariner go on?
What provoked this post on privacy is the fact that Google again is caught red handed modifying settings in school PCs so that Google can monitor the use of the PCs unbeknownst to anyone. Further, a student cannot modify the setting to turn off Google’s snooping. The news article is a MUST READ. See:
Mariner says it again: Don’t worry about what NSA knows about you; it’s Google who knows a lot more than NSA ever will and can use it without accountability. Besides, at least the NSA doesn’t want to live your life for you.
A recent advancement in computer technology is the use of “clouds.” A cloud is a data storage service where you can leverage many processing devices to process your data. The cloud also stores your data. This is a boon for large companies and science research that need faster processing than possible in their own locations. These large scale users have IT specialists to assure security and accuracy – specialists that you may not have to protect your data for you. The issue of privacy is bound up in the cloud service because the smart phone companies store your smart phone activity on clouds whether you need high powered processing or not. However, the smart phone companies use the high powered processing to sort through your data just like Google always has.
The next chapter in limiting your choices in life will come soon when you can no longer buy your own processing system and programs. You will rent them from owners of the clouds. Like the child who picks up a dirty object and you say, “Don’t put that in your mouth – you don’t know where it’s been!” you may also be able to say that about your data.