It seems like over the last few months that lots of different people are saying “privacy is dead” (namely, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg). I don’t really hold a position as to whether individuals care or not that their privacy may be fleeting, but I do know that privacy is slowly escaping the average American, whether they like it or not. I’m not talking about the people that are actively on Facebook posting information. Rather, I’m talking about the ways people don’t even know they’re being tracked (of course, a lot of programmers and other “nerds” probably already know this stuff).
How am I Tracked?
I think the biggest way people may be giving up their individual privacy is through their friends. Unless you hang out with a bunch of luddites, I’m guessing that most of your friends have cellphones. And, with these cellphones, they call your cellphone (pretty profound, right?). Perhaps you don’t have a cell phone, but then they e-mail you from their phone, or call your landline, or send you a tweet. You’d have to be rather naive to not believe that the phone companies aren’t making social graphs of who knows whom and how often they interact.
If your friends use the Internet, (and who doesn’t?) then most likely they’re now on Facebook. Whether you’re on Facebook or not doesn’t matter. At some time, during some party, you’re going to have your photo taken. Someone will eventually “tag” you or comment. Facebook or some 3rd-party Application will then use this information and make social links and will come up with your existence. They may not have every bit of information, but I’m sure they have more data than you can imagine.
If your friends use some kind of e-mail, (again, who doesn’t?), then a lot of companies (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Comcast, etc) have your e-mail address as well as anyone you’ve e-mailed. Personally, I like to fill in a lot of “contact” information in Google so that I have that information regardless of where I am (and in case I lose my phone). Whether my friends use Google or not, Google still has some of their information- and I would guarantee that they’re making links too.
If you use a search engine, then well, it’s almost not even worth going into… Google and pretty much everybody else out there logs your searches. If you have an account with them, splendid. If not, then they just track by I.P. address. Yeah, search engines track you.
If you use a debit or credit card for most of your spending, then company X and company Y are analyzing all of your spending habits. Company X is the individual company where you just made your purchase and company Y is the credit card or bank itself. They may not have all of the details, but sometimes they add up. For example, if you buy something on someone’s registry then they know you two are connected.
Why Track Me?
You know, I would say that the reason they track people is so that they can come up with better algorithms to have targeted advertising. I use Google Chrome about 70% of the time now and Mozilla Firefox the other 30%. I use adblock plus on Firefox, but with Chrome I don’t block ads. Most of the time, I don’t mind ads, so long as they’re targeted at who I am and are interesting. So to me, if the reason these systems exist are to provide me with a better service, then so be it.
At any rate, I think it goes beyond advertising. I think that people 1) are nosy and 2) just like analyzing things. In general, I think we like to know what’s going on with other people, even if we don’t know them. We also like to analyze big groups of people so we can make ‘In general’ statements ;)
Well, if you’re like me, then you probably just need to be aware that these things exist. I’m not going to put on a tinfoil hat, and I certainly don’t think others need to either. I mostly just think it’s interesting that these exist and I believe that there isn’t much you nor I could do about it. If you really want to get away, I suggest finding a nice piece of land where you can grow your own food year round. In the meantime, I’ll be checking my Facebook feed, making phone calls, sending e-mails, Googling for answers, and spending money all over town.