Why do we bother deluding ourselves with the notion of privacy? If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it simply no longer exists. The only way to ensure something remains somewhat private is to make sure it never escapes the confines of our noggins.
You may balk at the notion postulated in the previous paragraph, but if you really analyze it for a few moments with cold logic and available knowledge, rather than gut reaction and wishful thinking, you’ll realize it’s true.
The quantity of information bouncing around databases regarding each of us is mind boggling. “They” know things about us we don’t even know ourselves, and some of it may even be true.
Consider the information your creditors and their processing affiliates have on you. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover know what you purchased, where, when, and from whom.
That Sears card you’ve carried for years, detailing all your purchases there, is in the databases of the issuing bank, Citibank/Citigroup, which provides credit card services for many merchants and retailers. How about that Walmart/Sam’s Club card? Monogram Bank/GE Capital thanks you for providing its databases with all that wonderful targeting information.
It doesn’t stop there. A recent article on The Ultimate Banking Guide Website says banks are starting to share data on which customers are unprofitable or might be high-risk. This allows credit card firms to close these customers' accounts and cancel their cards.
Do you shop at Amazon, Best Buy, or any of the many merchant portals? They have oodles of targeting data.
What about those discount cards just about every brick-and-mortar has you hauling around in your wallet or on your keychain? They’re not giving you those deals out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re aggregating your data, which they then sell, use to target you, or both.
Ever heard of the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or the Automobile-Property Loss Underwriting Service? It’s the database where your insurance company tosses your information, ensuring that any insurer will have access forever to any claim you’ve ever filed. Ever! And don’t think they don’t have similar systems for the rest of your insurance needs, regardless of HIPAA or any other law.
Want to get a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg? Check out this LexisNexis page. You can order up to one copy a year of your insurance report, employment history report, and resident history report for free. You also can order a host of other reports for a fee, including vital records, healthcare credentials, and a disturbing bit more. And the ISO site offers even more.
Virtually every industry has an information clearinghouse accruing, storing, and passing out data on you. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. From your driving record to your taste in music, from your choice in hotels to your choice in entertainment, from the age of your children to the age of your dog, they know it all.
The Internet has made things far simpler for us, from shopping to communications, but it’s made it even easier for those who would prey on us. Until we stand up and fight back, forcing our lawmakers to create effective and useful regulations for these industries and practices, the abuse of our privacy will continue. And it will be aided by the spread of inexpensive broadband Internet services, which makes it easier to gather and transfer infomation.
What used to take tapes, drives, and reams of paper, as well as a squadron of operators and data entry personnel working for weeks at a time, now takes a few keystrokes or clicks.
And somehow, we manage to convince ourselves we have a modicum of privacy left in our lives.
— John Myers is manager of technologies at the Knoxville Zoo as well as the owner of several technology-related companies.