What Happened To Our Privacy?


privacy_lapThe short answer is that we gave it away sometimes unwillingly or unwittingly.

It was less than a decade ago that people were alarmed to learn that they were legally being spied upon in retail store changing rooms and in the workplace.

A lot has changed since the late 90s. We are now observed on the street where, we are told that the expectation of privacy is non-existent, in retail stores where every gaze is carefully scrutinized not to mention those loyalty cards that monitor our purchases and most intrusively on the internet.

Fiction or not it is not surprising that for several years the crime dramas, NCIS, Person of Interest, Criminal Minds, etc., have featured techie types that scourer the network and instantly come up with all sorts of personal information about their victims and suspects. Some even go so far as to access the floor plans of buildings, gain control of doors and elevators, and monitor all sorts of webcams, cell phones and GPS devices. Except for the near instantaneous results of their probes most of their activity is either true today or will be in the near future.

For the most part we give away our privacy willingly. Since the advent of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter we are encouraged to “share” with potentially everyone on the planet but ostensibly to let our friends and followers know our personal details and what we are doing throughout the day. Obviously this creates a relatively permanent on-line record searchable by anyone.

What is interesting about this is that there are now companies coming on-line that for a fee will monitor on-line activity and alert them when  a search result reveals their personal information and then take steps to correct inaccurate information to protect the person’s reputation.

It is a sad state of affairs when we now have to pay to protect information that we either gave away or was acquired someone for nefarious purposes.

Most of the privacy we give away or is taken from us is in support of on-line businesses. This has become much more invasive than the physical junk mail that we received and has, for the most part, kept the post office in business. However, the daily barrage of junk e-mail while having less of an environmental impact is no less annoying.

This again has spawned numerous businesses to filter junk e-mail, commonly called SPAM, for which companies and individuals pay a fee.

The pressure for sales has become so intense that a person can’t even visit a website without that event being recorded, your e-mail address being captured and used to send you unsolicited business e-mail or spam if you will. Even clicking on an ad by mistake will often result in more spam.

Businesses have taken up the strategy of predictive target marketing big time. Target marketing is the idea that if you bought or researched a product from the company then they assume, usually incorrectly, that you will be interested in more of the same and use that as an excuse to send you a barrage of spam, which, by the way, is legal according to the FTC CAN-SPAM Act.

Another very popular business strategy is affiliate marketing. This usually appears as ads for other goods and services that are placed on another companies website. These ads generate revenue in the form of a click through fee, that is, when you click on one of these ads the host company receives a fee for every click which is part of the affiliates’ advertising budget.

You have probably noticed a reference to affiliates in those privacy notices we receive in the mail and that you usually throw away. Anyway, out of the half-dozen provisions on the notice, information sharing with affiliates are the only ones that you may be able to opt-out of.

Speaking of opting out, the aforementioned CAN-SPAM ACT requires businesses  to provide you with a simple way to opt-out or unsubscribe in their e-mails. While this sounds good it does not always work and may not be simple. Of course these provisions only apply to domestic businesses.

Please see follow on blog post Are You A Victim of UBE? – Unsolicited Bulk Email.

As always, if you are interested in this or any of my articles for your print publication please send me a comment.

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