Privacy is becoming hard to find
March 25, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

I read George Orwell’s “1984” when I was very young and it terrified me.

One of the things I found troubling was the notion that the government – any government – could know everything about private citizens.

It wasn’t that I had anything to hide. At that young age, I was as pure as the driven snow and had no transgressions on my conscience.

It just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. Even then, I was as concerned about being protected from the government as I was about being protected by the government.

Today, we have to worry about more than government agents keeping a dossier on us.

In the digital age, we must realize that retailers (both online and the bricks-and-mortar kind) and others keep track of just about everything we do.

I recently read a piece about Sen. Franken pressing a tech firm to stop tracking consumers without their permission.

It has been reported that Euclid has tracked approximately 50 million Americans via their smartphones as they went about their business.

“It’s one thing to track someone’s shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected,” Franken said. “It’s another thing entirely to track consumers’ movements without their permission as they shop, especially when someone doesn’t buy anything or even enter a store. People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right.”

I am inclined to agree with the senator.

By now, we all know when we make a purchase by credit card, retailers can and will use that information against us to try to get us to buy more products or services.

Retailers, of course, will say they are just trying to help us find things we are likely to want.

Regardless of the motivation, most of us realize that kind of thing is going on. We give up some of our privacy in exchange for the convenience of using credit cards or shopping online.

We are voluntarily providing information to the businesses in these cases.

When we shop online, even if we don’t buy anything, we realize that companies will try to sell us things based on our browsing history.

If we look at cars, we will soon be buried in automotive ads. If we check out sofas on a furniture store website, we will be bombarded by ads for furniture.

I don’t like that this happens, but I accept it.

When a company that we have never contacted or done business with starts tracking our movements, however, that seems to be crossing a line.

I don’t have anything to hide, but I don’t like the idea of digital detectives watching my every move, either.

I am concerned not only about the company collecting the data, but also about what they do with it once they have it.

Even if the company collecting data has some safeguards in place, what about the companies or individuals to which it might sell this data?

There are numerous ways unscrupulous individuals could use data to harm the subject.

For example, if a company is tracking a person’s movements via his phone, it would be a simple matter to know when that person is away from home.

This information could prove invaluable to a burglar. People in that line of work often find it inconvenient when a homeowner appears unexpectedly. It would likely improve the peace-of-mind of the average burglar if he knew he had a clear window of opportunity to browse through the target’s belongings.

Franken described companies tracking people without their consent as “troubling.”

It is troubling.

Franken sent a letter to Euclid asking for a response on 16 questions related to the company’s consumer tracking activities.

It will be interesting to see what response, if any, he receives.

Technology is changing rapidly, but I’m not sure this means we must automatically give up any expectation of privacy.

If things continue in the direction they seem to be going, however, the only way we will be able to maintain our privacy will be to adopt a primitive lifestyle by avoiding the Internet, cell phones, credit and debit cards, and completing all our business transactions using cash.

That might work – as long as businesses continue to accept cash. Unfortunately, cash might be another endangered species, and we may not have a choice.

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