Coffee heat rising

Privacy: A thing of the past?

Big Brother is watching you…

Over at Prairie Ecothrifter, a lively conversation is going on about the steadily increasing loss of privacy. Ecothrifter has written a great post on the subject, one of my favorite hobbyhorses.

The interesting thing is the number of people who actually don’t seem to be bothered by this! Every time one of these discussions arises, someone says something like “I don’t care much as long as I am not harmed.” Right. As though loss of your liberty to do as you please and to come and go as you please without somebody’s nose up your you-know-what is not harm? As though silently gathering information that not only can be used to pester you with more and more advertising but can actually be used against you in a court of law is not harm?

Apparently most Americans don’t value their privacy, and so all of us, including those who do, have lost our privacy.

My tinfoil hat isn’t shiny enough to lead me to wallpaper the rooms and ceiling with matching foil. However, I do take some steps to cling to a few shreds of privacy:

Don’t carry your Social Security card around with you.
Don’t hire on to jobs that require fingerprinting (these include everything from teacher to real estate sales agent).
Refrain from entering information in social media—tell Facebook, Twitter, & Linked-In as little as possible about yourself, or actually dispense disinformation.
And ask Facebook “friends” not to “tag” you in photos.
Lie yourself stupid when people ask for information that’s none of their business! Give out fake phone numbers, fake addresses, and whenever possible, fake names. Safeway, for example, thinks it’s doing business with my deceased dog, whose telephone number is the same as Safeway’s corporate headquarters’.
Wear broad-brimmed hats in public so it’s harder for camera snoops to capture an image of your face.
If you still use checks, have a fake phone number printed on them.
Don’t carry around cell phones and pads that can track your location, or if you must, turn off the geolocator function. If you can…
Do business only with retailers that don’t demand personal information in exchange for a fair price.
Don’t buy things off the Internet.

There’s a difference, IMHO, between what Crystal describes in her comment—willingly sharing information that’s culturally regarded as “private”—and surreptitious gathering of information, aggressively forcing information from you, or invading your private space (as in fingerprinting you when you’re the victim of a crime or as in X-raying your naked body through your clothes or as in listening in on your phone conversations and e-mail).

If you want to divulge things about yourself, fine. But what’s objectionable is the invasion of your privacy and the use of information gleaned by spying on you or by making you give it up against your will. Or aggregating that information without your knowledge. That is what we as individuals need to fight.


Image: Telescreens from the movie 1984. © Rosenblum Productions, Inc.

13 thoughts on “Privacy: A thing of the past?”

  1. I never would have thought about wearing a hat to hide your face. Wow. I personally don’t think that disabling the geotracking actually works to the level that people think. There have to be overrides in place to where ‘Big Brother’ can track you anyway.

  2. My credit union has a sign asking people to take off their hats before entering the building. They want to be able to get a clear picture when they’re photographing you.

  3. Many of the big financial blogs–e.g. Get Rich Slowly and the like, many bought by a marketing co called Quin or something–trigger a malware warning on my computer. Those programs are far more dangerous to our privacy than walking w/out a hat.

    I am actually relieved by surveillance programs–cameras have caught abductions–though, sadly, not the recent one of a 21 yr old in Lafayette LA.

  4. @ frugalscholar: Is that so? I haven’t visited GRS lately — hate pop-ups in my face; loved JD’s writing, but his hired guns, not so much. Well…except for Donna’s post there today. 😉

    There is a program that will pay you to let its owners grab data from visitors to your site. My Firefox for Mac isn’t registering it at GRS, but that sure doesn’t mean it’s not there. And there are Web analytic tools that let a site owner see who’s coming and going to and within the site.

  5. Hi Funny, can you elaborate about not buying things off the internet? I hate going shopping, so I use the internet to get things I need. Is there something I should know?

  6. @ Stephen: Often information you enter when you purchase something or sign up to a site so that you can make purchases is sold to other marketers. This invites spam and even more piles of junkmail in your snail-mailbox. I created a gmail account that I give to online retailers and others that I would just as soon not hear from after the transaction is finished. Every now and again I have to go in there and delete a tsunami of nuisance messages.

    There have been other concerns, not only about whatever real issues may exist, but also about how consumers view the interaction between online shopping and privacy.

    Here’s a PDF of interest…hope the URL works:

    This article on Buzzle is cursory but it’s a handy introduction:

    Wikipedia has a decent overview of online shopping pro’s and cons. Take a look at section 11, and esp. section 11.3 here:

    Here’s a somewhat more thorough and better organized discussion:

    Some of the stuff on this subject is absolutely wacko, so remember to leave the tinfoil hat on the coffee table when you’re reading privacy-related websites.

    • Thanks Funny, that sure is an eye opener. Looks like I should go to the stores, with cash in hand, more often.

  7. Speaking as historian, I see privacy as a fairly recent (and, unfortunately, short-lived) phenomenon available only to isolated frontierspeople and large-city dwellers for about 200 years (1750-1950). When I was teaching, I urged my students to take for granted that everything they did, said, or wrote might one day be on the front page of the NY Times and to plan accordingly. I may have gotten the “page” part wrong, but I think the rest holds true.

    • @ Holly: That is an interesting observation. So do you think the idea of “privacy,” especially as some sort of human right, is peculiar to North America — possibly even to the U.S.?

      Many Americans seem to think that privacy is Constitutionally guaranteed. But that appears not to be the case…as far as I can tell, the closest the Constitution comes is the the right to be secure in your home. But that is different from “the right not to have everyone in the world know everything about you” or “the right not to be watched everywhere you go.” Culturally, the idea that there’s a right to privacy does seem to be embedded in U.S. thinking, at least in a certain segment of the population.

      LOL! My mother used to tell me never to put anything in writing that you don’t want [fill in the blank: your mother, your boss, your spouse, your kids, your____] to see.

  8. I think this might make an interesting research topic!

    I don’t think the idea of privacy is uniquely American, but I do think that the expectation of privacy developed in the context of the Enlightenment ideas of liberty, rights, and “private” property and that privacy was achieved only in areas of isolation (the frontier) or anonymity (large cities) before modern technology made both isolation and anonymity impossible.

    I don’t know enough about nonWestern cultures to speak about the idea of privacy there.

  9. You don’t have to have very much printed on your checks at all, honestly. I used to work at a credit union and learned that the less you have on checks, the better. I only have my husband’s initials and my initials (not even full names) on our checks. No address (not even city or state), no driver’s license numbers, and no phone numbers at all. Initials only.

    • @ Jessica: That’s true. Good idea about the initials, too! But if you don’t have your address and phone number on there, you’re apt to be told to write them on it. Or the clerk will ask you and she’ll write them on your check. That’s why I have a phony phone number printed on them…when my checks didn’t have a phone number, I was asked to provide it every single time I wrote a check. And the trouble is, when someone asks me something to my face, I’ll tell the truth — I’ll blurt out my real number before I think.

      Hm. A person could put a fake address on there, too. Or if you didn’t want to lie, get a PO box. Sometimes a vendor has a good reason to try to reach you — something’s wrong with the check, for example.

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