Archive for Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Privacy surrender

September 9, 2009


In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the nebulous presence of “Big Brother” was everywhere. The promise that “Big Brother is watching” was menacing and intrusive.

Yet, in today’s society, we have created and accepted all kinds of private intrusions.

It’s a little amusing, for instance, that local law enforcement officers had the ability to use a vehicle’s GPS system to track down a motorist who left the scene of a non-injury accident last weekend. The airbags in the vehicle had deployed, triggering notification to the OnStar emergency notification service. When OnStar contacted local officers, they were able to trace the vehicle and arrest a suspect.

We accept, even applaud, systems like OnStar as a safety feature but give little thought to how they could infringe on our privacy. Many people likely have been helped by the system, and the driver in Friday night’s crash deserved to be found, so what’s the problem?

Maybe there isn’t one, but the amount of information we share, knowingly or unknowingly, through various electronic devices is a sobering thought.

How does that store know exactly what coupons might draw you back through their doors? They can tell from your shopper’s card what you’ve bought in the past. Want a little chance to get away from it all? Your credit card company is tracking your every move. If you don’t let them know in advance that you’re traveling abroad they may cut off your card.

Federal legislators currently are looking at the amount of information gathered from people over the Internet. The sites you visit to read, network or shop all create a profile that advertisers can use to target you as a customers, and some lawmakers want consumers to have more control over that information and how it’s used.

If you’re knocked unconscious or being held against your will, the ability to trace your whereabouts through the cellular phone that’s in your pocket could be a life-saving event. But the idea that information about your whereabouts, your shopping preferences and any number of other topics is available, whether you want it to be or not, to people you don’t know and may not care to do business with is a sobering thought.

In “1984,” Big Brother was a sinister presence whom you probably wouldn’t want to see on your doorstep. Ironically, most of us have invited the same kind of intrusions into our homes without a second thought.


lounger 8 years, 9 months ago

This is interesting and timely. Facebook, myspace, twitter and the like are easy to dial up and divulge huge amounts of information on people (MOST of which is true). It seems the government got what it wanted without trying too hard-a profile on every other american. Oddly enough It was done, as this article states, without a second thought. Strange times.....

Jonathan Becker 8 years, 9 months ago

Interesting, perhaps. Timely, no.

The University of Michigan New School for Social Research reported in 1972 the biggest threat to privacy was 'meta-information", which was defined as information compiled from one or more sources that produced new information.

Research published 37 years ago and the L-J World finally comments on it. . . . I can't wait for your gutsy reporting on Nixon's resignation in two years.

RogueThrill 8 years, 9 months ago

HINT: Don't give them your real name and info when filling out shopper's cards.

Melissa Sigler 8 years, 9 months ago

For the most part I really don't think little things such as shoppers cards and the like are going to infringe on your privacy unless someone is really wanting to find you or harm you. How often does that happen? Maybe I'm naive, but I'm not going to worry about such things until I really have something to worry about.

The one thing that really bothers me is the new Medicare accreditation laws for health care professionals. Before this law, we were able to serve Medicare customers with ease (for the most part). Now, our employees have to print out hundreds upon thousands of documents and books and every single person who works at our business has multiple, huge background checks and files about them. I'm honestly surprised we don't have to start logging what we ate for breakfast. It's the most abusive use of "big brother" I've ever seen, and a HUGE waste of time and resources. Medicare is literally running the lives at our healthcare business, and if we don't have documents done and filled out at a certain time (complete with perfectly compiled INDEXED file folders) they could cut us off completely, in a heartbeat, and not let us accept Medicare patients. If they come to check our business out, and one day we forgot to log the starting and ending gas mileage of our delivery vehicle or have a leftover mint wrapper in the car...thats more Medicare. I find it incredibly creepy, they have way too much power, especially over small businesses who don't have the resources to keep up on such small, silly details. I've just begun to outline what we actually have to do, but it would take a book to explain it all. So creepy!

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

If anyone is interested in my shopping list I will be glad to give it to them. I don't consider that to be "private" information. Or the books I check out or where I go on the Internet.

jonas_opines 8 years, 9 months ago

"HINT: Don't give them your real name and info when filling out shopper's cards."

Indeed. All my purchases are made under the name Alfonso Archimedes Ozymandius.

jonas_opines 8 years, 9 months ago

/and Alfie Archie Ozzie has a penchant for buying couscous.

RogueThrill 8 years, 9 months ago

If anyone is interested in my shopping list I will be glad to give it to them. I don't consider that to be “private” information. Or the books I check out or where I go on the Internet.


You'll excuse me if I keep mine private.

jonas_opines 8 years, 9 months ago

R-I: That would be true in most cases, but after watching the Shawshank Redemption I knew all about how to make a new person, where the holes in the system are, etc.

Brian Laird 8 years, 9 months ago

barrypenders (Anonymous) says…

"'meta-information'? You mean like what the Poser and his enablers want to do?"

Oh, you mean like this attempt.....

Shane Garrett 8 years, 9 months ago

It is already to late. Every 0 and 1 is being collected. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Unless the people of the world destroy all technology and revise our society. Anyone want to join in the group planting and harvesting? In the evenings we could all sit around the drum circle and cleanse our souls of the wanting of material goods. Herbs could be used by the medicine women to cure sickness. Global warming would no longer be an issue. We could rebuild society with no religion. No money too.
Anybody else out there trying to quit smoking and taking Chantix? I have had some other wild dreams.

feeble 8 years, 9 months ago

The editor is late to the party. I refer you to the 2007 paper by A. Machanavajjhala, et al. (citation and link to paper below)

The identity of 87% of all Americans can be determined with just three pieces of information: zip code, birth date, gender.

here's the "money" quote from the paper:

"In fact, those three attributes were used to link Massachusetts voter registration records (which included the name, gender, zip code, and date of birth) to supposedly anonymized medical data from GIC1 (which included gender, zip code, date of birth and diagnosis).

This “linking attack” managed to uniquely identify the medical records of the governor of Massachusetts in the medical data "

You are not anonymous. Your privacy has already been lost, and you will not get it back. Welcome to the 21st century.


l-diversity: Privacy beyond k-anonymity A Machanavajjhala, D Kifer, J Gehrke, M … - 2007 available at:

Stuart Evans 8 years, 9 months ago

you won't be concerned about your shopping lists until you buy something that you don't want people to know about. just wait until you health insurance has to be run through a government agency, and they want to compare the items you buy with the coverage you're receiving. someday, they'll tell you that you can't buy any more double stuff oreos because you are currently enrolled in a weight reduction program. or they might ask why you need 3 boxes of Sudafed. or they might not ask at all and just come arrest you for suspicion of manufacturing meth.

yes it seems a bit Orwellian, but the technology is already in place. all we need is an administration hellbent on keeping us safe from ourselves and the desire to create a lot more government agencies. good thing that will never happen...

denak 8 years, 9 months ago

Our privacy was surrender years ago. How do you think businesses and telemarketers get your information? They get them from lists. Even if you put your name on a "no-call" list or you sign a form at your bank, grocery store, etc saying that you do not want your information shared, guess what, that doesn't apply to companies owned by the parent company. All that means is that the company won't share information with competing companies. They will loan, rent, and share information with subsidiaries.

The only thing different now, then say 10 years ago, is that all the information sharing is electronic. Companies know who you are from the moment you are born. (Literally, hospital share information with companies they do business with ie Parenting magazine, the soda companies, diaper companies etc.)

It isn't the internet that is the problem(if you view this as a problem) it is the fact that there are mega-corporations that have near monopolies on darn near everything. For example: Pepsi co owns or is inpartnership with Quaker Oats, KFC, Taco Bell, Gatorade, Frito-Lay, Pizza Hut, Tropicana, Starbucks(in partnership), Ben & Jerrys(in partnership) and several other brands. This might not seem like a lot or unimportant since it is only snack food but Pepsi Co shares information with all of these brands. Nespapers and magazines are all owned by a small minority of individuals. They all share information.

So, as long as there is capitalism in this country, we are going to have our information shared. Congress isn't going to piss off multi-billion dollar companies just to insure our privacy. Not going to happen. So, we either just have to accept it or move to another country. But since most of these companies are global, your information is still going to be used.


Ernest Barteldes 8 years, 9 months ago

Do not forget the wireless feature that many credit cards have today. With that chip, companies can actually tell if you've been in store A or B even if you havent bought a thing...

Want privacy? Pay cash, stay away from the Internet, do not carry a credit card.... afff this could be exhausting.

Maddy Griffin 8 years, 9 months ago

FEAR-MONGERING for breakfast. Looks like some of you are having seconds.

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