Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Forum warns of corporate ‘invasion’

Companies’ data use raises privacy concerns

December 1, 2005


Even with a permanent Patriot Act and increased government monitoring after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there is a more immediate group monitoring our daily lives: corporations.

Using the Internet and other information-gathering systems, corporations routinely buy and sell spending and demographic information to make money and help find the right consumers faster, a privacy panel said Wednesday night.

"Almost everything about us is out of our control, in the hands of third parties," Kansas University journalism professor Ted Frederickson said during the discussion.

The panel, organized by the social issues discussion group Preview Forum, set out to address the issue of privacy and security in communities, and it quickly landed on the topic of corporate monitoring. Companies set up databases of consumer lives, selling the information to politicians to better solicit votes. And companies use bar-code scanners to solicit future sales according to what people buy today.

All of that, the panel said, can result in a lack of personal identity, a world where companies view people as numbers, rather than individuals with diverse tastes and lives.

"Companies and governments should treat us with the utmost respect and care," KU sociology professor Bill Staples said.

Staples, who has published books on privacy and monitoring, said that information gathering equated to a "quiet revolution," where people may have concerns about it but rarely know where to turn because the invasions come from so many sources.

It becomes easier when consumers shop and search Web sites on the Internet, Frederickson said. "Cookies," or traceable lists of where people travel on the Internet, give companies a fingerprint to track habits.

Then, companies will often share that information with a variety of other companies looking to bag a quick customer without having to search through a broad base of people.

The government rarely uses information this efficiently, Staples said.

"But when there's a market incentive, you can't beat it," he said.

Kissan Joseph, a KU economics professor, said that when companies use data collection systems like cookies to find the right consumers, the consumers themselves may reap the benefits.

"There's an upside potential," Joseph said. When companies cut down on the time and money it takes to market their product, the savings can trickle back down to the customers.

Staples said that although that might be true, there was still something intrinsically wrong with corporations baiting people into handing out their personal information, something that the government, even under the Patriot Act, rarely does.

"It's seduction instead of a jack-boot on the neck," Staples said. "It's oddly more insidious."


tir 12 years, 6 months ago

I use Mozilla Firefox and in the Tools menu you can click on Options/Privacy and in one click delete ALL cookies from your machine whenever you want. You can also get rid of the temporary web files and your browsing history from there. I use this procedure frequently when web surfing to keep evil tracking cookies from following me around the web watching what I do. Yes, it means I give up being able to keep site preferences and passwords, but I am willing to do that for a bit more privacy.

b_asinbeer 12 years, 6 months ago

I agree with tir, I usually erase everything from Firefox at then end of every day...just to be on the safe side.

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

Usually the first people concerned about privacy from anonymous, distant organizations (who aren't concerned at all about you individually), are the first people to sign up to release all of their financial and purchase history for a 2 cent discount!

What is interesting is how concerns about privacy have blossomed from the last century, when the average Kansan lived in a town of maybe 3,000 people, where everyone knew everyone else's business, and the incidence of a single person living alone (in true privacy) was quite rare. Then, people had the sense of controlling their privacy even though there was remarkably little of it. (For example, if your neighbors know a considerable amount of detail about your life and keep watch over every person - who they also know - that comes and goes from your house, you may not care that they know but you do not have "privacy.") Now, people sense that they don't know everyone (in reality, everyTHING) who knows things about them, but yet live in relatively anonymous privacy from their community, yet are concerned that a computer somewhere knows they buy a dozen boxes of fruitloops a month.

In the near future, everyone will be able to know everything about everyone else. It will be interesting to see how people do and do not change as a result.

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

BTW - what's with the extreme degree of scarryness by referencing "corporations"? Would anything change if the corporate acts were carried on by an LLC, or a "mom-and-pop" operation?

badger 12 years, 6 months ago

I'm a Mozilla Firefox convert. I will never go back to IE again, and the only reason it's still installed on my machine is that if I uninstall it, I'm pretty sure Bill Gates will knock on my door with a baseball bat and smash my laptop (or at least that's what it will feel like when the critical system components built into my web browser shut down the operating system entirely).

You know, I think that I would mind the data collection about my shopping habits a lot less if it worked. I don't own a home or buy prescription medications online, and nothing in my clicking habits would indicate that I do. However, I am consistently offered second mortgages and pills by mail. I like Amazon a lot better, where you go through and set up likes and dislikes, and it continually refines what it recommends for you based on the preferences you specify, down to rating the books you already own 1-5 stars to help pick out new ones. I've found two new authors I like very much (Robin Hobb and Jasper Fforde) this way.

I think it just creeps me out a little to be followed online, and have some bot thinking, "Hm, badger looked up a residential address on the Internet. I bet that's a house for sale, so I'll sell that information to mortgage companies! Oh, and badger is also looking at books, perhaps convalescing after an illness? I'll send out prescription drug offers!"

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 6 months ago

Jamesaust: They used "corporations" because people in Lawrence are afraid of them. The hippies see them as the downfall of our quaint way of life and the destruction of rustic downtown Lawrence. Of course, those people forget that we live in a city of about 100,000 people (130,000 during the KU school year)...

DuQuesne 12 years, 6 months ago

Watch out - long post sorry, couldn't be helped. Both in my online encounters and F2F or IRL visits, I try to give merchants exactly the information I want them to have. I also selectively buy with cash when I go to the store and pass up "rewards cards" in many cases because I don't need the so-called rewards promised in return for a dossier full of my shopping habits. When I do use a rewards card, it doesn't trace back to me. At the video rental store, if the necessary form has a space for Social Security Number (many sign-up forms request the SSN), I won't argue with the minimum-wage clerk behind the counter who's just doing his or her job what they need is 9 digits, so that's what I give them. Depending on my mood, I may give them my ex-wife's SSN. I have strategies for requests for phone number, driver's license and so on.

On my computer, the first step was to set it up originally without my name or anything else identifiable. Fortunately, I have several PCs and all the programs that actually have to be registered are not on the one I use for the tiny bit of online shopping that I indulge in. My shopping and bargain-finding PC doesn't "know" it's mine and doesn't even send out my IP because I've taken steps to prevent that. I have no compunction about lying to any online entity when asked for demographic information it's not a matter if keeping secrets from them so much as it's a matter of not needing them to know that much about me.

Sometimes I have to deal with some a provider or merchant and must provide a certain amount of accurate information many present a "notice of privacy policy" or something similar. I tell these providers' representatives (you're ALWAYS talking with a clerk or receptionist) that I have my own policy and it supersedes all others: I give them my information with the expectation that they'll use it for the stated purpose and, if I find they've done something inappropriate with it, I'll visit them at their residence at 3 am and discuss the issue with them. Sometimes I crack a smile and sometimes I don't.

b_asinbeer 12 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence's population is not 130,000 or 100,000 with or without students. It's less than that. Just wanted to clarify things. Recent census findings report it in the low 80,000s. And KU's student population is around 25,000, not 30,000.

Have a good day!

CanadianPassport 12 years, 6 months ago

Ahhhhhh Corporations!!!! Black helicopters everywhere!!

Don't worry about the ever-expanding federal government ... it's the corporations that are after us. We will fight them with Indie Rock and tastefully longish hair.

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