British Christmas Adverts – Part 1
Goals and Resolutions for 2020

A TGB READER STORY: The Data Dilemma

By Susan Remson

Every day we read, hear or see something about privacy and how our lives, and the specifics of it, seem to be watered down into one word. DATA.

Where I shop, what I eat, how I spend my money, who I phone, what I watch on TV, and who I vote for and so much more about me is reduced to numbers. DATA.

Everything about me is out there for lobbyists, candidates, marketers, insurers, health care providers and researchers of every shape and discipline to find out all about me. Easily, I am told. DATA.

DATA is my Permanent Record. Remember permanent records? If you’re as old as I am, you went through grade school and high school being told that everything you did would be on your Permanent Record (in my mind it was always capitalized).

From the time you started school you were told that your PM would haunt you for the rest of your life. Every third grader trembled at the thought that every mistake she ever made would follow her for the rest of her life!

Well, now my PM is DATA. Every time I pick up my phone or go to the bank or purchase a banana, my DATA is recorded, although if I don’t want the sale price on bananas, maybe not.

I have been hesitant to get those digital coupons that the grocery offers because I know they are recording my purchasing preferences. And selling my phone number which will lead to more calls from unknown phone numbers that I don’t answer.

I’ve only recently given in to online shopping – maybe that’s because all the stores in my neighborhood are closing and I don’t know where to go to for my basic needs except online. But I am still spooked by those pop-up ads that know exactly what I have searched for and what I might want to buy. And I’m not just talking about buying bananas.

But here’s the thing. Maybe I shouldn’t mind so much. After all, how different is that DATA to my school PM? Okay, maybe it’s more telling, more invasive, more revealing of my personal habits, but when I think about it, I was never very concerned about my PM.

The reason I wasn’t concerned is because I hardly ever did anything wrong in grade school, and in high school I was a meek, shy, obedient student with mediocre grades and few extracurricular activities.

If you were to track down my PM and read it, you’d be pretty bored. If you do want to read it, go ahead. I’ve nothing to hide – nothing of interest anyway, except that I was boring.

So what about that DATA that the world now seems to have on me? Well, I think it’d be pretty boring too. Does the world care that I do my banking mostly at the ATM, that my credit is good, that I have had one speeding ticket in the last 50 years and that I prefer bananas to oranges?

Perhaps, but I’ve really nothing to hide and actually I might even benefit from someone knowing my fruit preferences.

This past week I got an envelope in the mail from the store where I do most of my grocery shopping. It was filled with coupons and each and every coupon was for an item that I have purchased in the past and will probably purchase again. The DATA that the grocery store collected is actually good for my bottom line.

Really, how can I resist a dollar off on toilet paper and a free pound of butter? Not easily!

Maybe the real bottom line is this: If you live your life with nothing to hide, you don’t have to worry about the DATA. It’s not DIRT. It’s just DATA.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


Yes, I've often thought that, when people fuss about confIidentiality.

Long ago, I read a book that made a big impression on me called "Small is Beautiful" by E E Schumacher (Subtitled A study of Economics As If People Mattered.)

It made me think that humans are really designed to live in villages, where everyone knows everything about everyone else. People behave much better, when their safety, social life, and survival depend on the people around them, who know them. And I don't think that precludes contact with the global population. Identity theft wouldn't be a problem.

Is it really just data? I'm not sure. I'm not concerned for myself, though I was very out-there anti-Vietnam, and got arrested (with a bunch of lovely Quakers) for standing on a nuclear company's property. Really what concerns me is that, in a not-so-subtle way, we're all being herded into supporting huge, very thuggish monopolies, like Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. I order reluctantly from you, I can't find a store that will sell me much of anything now.
And all that packaging????? Talk about ecologically insane!!! Oh, and don't get me started about Alexa, and the devices that, if they are not now, will be listening in for more than just whether or not the lights should be turned on.

The thing that has me the most skittish about data is insurance: if the rules change (if someone kills the ACA, that is, without replacing the rules it replaced and upgraded), then being denied health insurance for any reason at all might be legal, even if one had continuous coverage.

And then there's that case a decade or so ago of insurance claiming someone didn't have depression (and therefore they shouldn't have to pay out) based on the fact she was, gasp, *smiling* in a vacation photo on social media.

And then there's the old Cardinal Richelieu quote: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

Basically, if everyone meant extremely well and had good understandings of how the world, medical conditions, and mental health worked, and a generous consideration of all the context involved in any particular situation, then privacy might not be a problem. Given the fact that this is not the case, however... I'd like privacy, thanks. And that's as a ridiculously law-abiding citizen!

What is the definition of PM?

In the mid 80s, I did marketing for short technical courses at a major university. In those (mostly) predigital days, this was done by mail and sent to mailing lists purchased from companies who laboriously collected the names from affinity groups, the DMV, voter registration, etc. I got a call one day from a young man eager to sell me anything I needed, sorted by age, gender, political affiliation, education, income, interests, virtually any metric I wanted. How did they get this info? It was a joint venture between American Express and ATT! I did not avail myself of their services, being horrified at the thought, but I have since realized that what everyone has said here is true. We have no privacy. And not a damned thing we can damned thing we can do about it! Good thing I'm boring too .

Great writing and interesting topic!

The only way to avoid, to some degree, the collection of your personal data is to pay cash for everything and not have store discount cards which are offered by every store in the universe now. Of course, everyone we pay a bill to collects data be it the telephone carrier, your mortgage, credit cards, the list is endless.

It may sound paranoid, but my fear is that the collection of data from every aspect of our lives could come back to haunt us IF Trump, or whatever autocrat this country allows to be president, uses it as a tool for retribution against anyone who doesn't support them. Think Germany in the 1940's.

My main concern with the proliferation of the spread of our DATA is: identity theft. This is something which is far more insidious and frequent than when I was a much younger person.

Like you, I am sure my life and habits are small, mundane and boring. And lIke other commenters here, I believe any illusion of privacy is just that--an illusion. That ship has sailed. Someone suggested buying only with cash.... that is rapidly becoming impossible, too. A huge new supermarket opened in my neighborhood. When I attempted to purchase a coffee at the concession , I was told they did not accept cash! I protested, "But this is US Currency!" Didn't matter, no cash transactions to be had. I did not want to use a card to buy a cup of coffee, so I walked away.

The times they are achanging. The technology giants have too strong a hold on all our DATA.

I have always thought of myself as forward-thinking, adapting to new technologies as soon as they became available. Early iPhone user, for example. Now, though, I am spooked by all the data collection. I have removed all but the most essential apps on my phone. I never participate in those surveys on receipts from restaurants and stores, with offers of free meals or whatever, because I know it is just a ploy to get more of my info that they can/will sell. I resist on principle, because one day we will learn exactly what their end game is. I don't think Irma is being paranoid at all. I understand that I can't win this game, but I can give them as little as possible.

There is a story today (12/17/19) on the Washington Post Website about how much data your car collects. The car companies (all) are not only monitoring how well the car is running but also checking on your location, speed, braking, data from a connected smart phone, radio stations and on and on. It was stunning. There is apparently no way to turn off this river of data being sent back to headquarters. There isn't even a way to find out what is being collected. The companies also did not divulge what they are doing with the data. The reporter hired an expert in (legal) hacking of the auto's computers (yes more than one) and they hacked only one. They needed a repair shop to reassemble it. BTW the expert drives a 1992 Toyota... from before the digital age got into the automobile business.

Legal hacking is used to unpack the information collected by the car during a crash.

Oh here's some tracking......... the place where I bought my hearing aids knows how many hours a day I use them! Yikes.

How about kids not learning cursive writing anymore? That really bothers me.

On the other hand, maybe that's our niche for the future. Old folks remembr what cursive writing looks like. We can read those interesting letters from the 17 and 18 hundreds.

I, too, am intrigued with the fact writing cursive is no longer being taught. Those of us who can use cursive will have a secret code for exchanging information in the future.

As for privacy, I have nothing to hide, but I strongly believe what I do is my business and nobody else's unless I want to share it. I resent information being taken about me without my permission, much less that info being sold to others. I've resented all along credit card companies and others who have been allowed to setup a system that if you don't want to participate you have to opt out rather than giving us the choice of opting in or out.

I think the risk of personal information being abused is very real and the kind of a national leader such as we have now is precisely the type who would do so given his vindictive proclivity toward anyone who disagrees with him. I think, too, of the use of AI and Visual Recognition systems which are being increasingly used in China. We can all easily be selected to go off to plush re-education communities.

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