Privacy

Privacy is slipping away. A little bit more every single day. I don’t say this to be alarmist — i’ve not believed that there’s been much legitimate privacy in the world for a while now — but I think that the trend is picking up the pace.

Everyone’s attention, of course, is on our “J. Edgar Hoover/Watergate burglers”-style government invasions of privacy. Which are heinous. I have a bit of a hard time telling whether they’re different qualitatively than other periods in our history with executive-branch abuses (Adams pushing Alien & Sedition Acts, Lincoln suspecting habeas corpus). It feels to me like the worst abuses, but I don’t have a wholly historic perspective, of course.

So that’s real, and bad.

But I think the bigger problem is illustrated by Tivo & Google & Apple. (3 companies who make some of my very favorite products in the world.) Lots of people wrote about Tivo tracking what people watched & how they watch (and rewatch) television — wondered what they were doing with the info (selling it, duh). Apple made the latest misstep with the little mini-music store. And everyone knows about how Google knows everything you’ve ever searched for ever. And now, when you do Google searches, the search results even list the number of times you’ve visited a given site. Creepy.

The reason that all these folks are collecting information, of course, is marketing. The more they know about you & your habits, the better they can get at showing you things you might want to watch, or click on, or listen to, or buy. Depending on your point of view, this is either amazingly great or an ever-present evil.

For me, I like marketing. It’s great. i just bought a new razor. (5 blades! Man, how do they think of this stuff? Science fiction on my stubble every day. Like I’m living in the future. Wish I knew what was in the labs next.)

So I’m conflicted. I feel okay about Amazon & Tivo & others knowing the stuff I like to buy because occasionally they suggest to me other stuff that is somehow missing from my life (but is destined to become integral!). And I like that.

All the same, I’m starting to worry.

I search the web probably 50-100 times a day. I use iTunes pretty much the whole time I’m awake and not in meetings. I use an online calendar that’s on a shared server. I blog about my shamefully high susceptibility to commercials with monkeys in them. (How’d they get the whoopie cushion?? Crazy monkeys.)

Now that I’m living a life that’s becoming virtually wholly trackable online it’s all a little creepy.

Not sure what conclusions to draw here, as I’m not going to go all Luddite and turn off my browser cookies. But just want to highlight that the real threat is not our dopey executive branch, but the well meaning folks all around me in cyberspace.

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