“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.”
Personal privacy is dead.
The notion that laws steadfastly protect dissemination of our most private information is an illusion, a myth that breeds complacency and thus encourages complicity in the harvesting and sale of all of our personal information.
Privacy laws were an effort to prevent disclosure of personal information through sweeping laws governing the release of medical records, information about residency, employment, citizenship, financial records, and virtually any data that might remotely be construed as “private.”
How well is the government protecting us? Well, judge for yourself.
The state of Oklahoma makes tens of millions of dollars a year selling the personal information of all state drivers, the Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa Word learned.
At least $65 million has been made in the past 5 years from the sale of millions of motor vehicle records that include birth dates and other personal information of all drivers, Department of Public Safety Records show. A private company has collected $15 million conducting most of those transactions on behalf of the state.
As a result, birth dates and other personal information flow freely on a daily basis to insurance companies, employment screening services, government agencies, attorneys, individuals and more.
What about financial institutions, which spend millions of dollars annually reminding us to safeguard our private information?
While banks aren't exactly selling your personal shopping details, through third parties, they're starting to partner with retailers to offer you deals based on your purchase history. For example, if you regularly pay with plastic at Walgreens, your bank might partner with Rite Aid and include a 20%-off Rite Aid coupon with your online credit card statement. You get a discount for trying a new drugstore, and the bank gets a commission from Rite Aid for every coupon that gets used.
It's a potentially lucrative business: By 2015, banks could be raking in up to $1.7 billion a year by helping merchants target shoppers, according to Boston-based research firm Aite Group. They also believe this kind of "merchant-funded incentive" could replace traditional debit and credit card rewards programs.
Before you take up cudgels with banks and government agencies, remember something: you willingly give it all away anyway.
Millions of people have a Facebook account, Google+ or at least an iGoogle page. Every search you conduct, everything you “like” on Facebook, every link you hit is tabulated into a complex algorithm which provides demographic information about you that is then sold and marketed.
Do an Expedia search for flights to Denver and your iGoogle page will fill ad space with notices for hotels, restaurants and attractions in the Denver area. Think that is a coincidence?
All of your online shopping habits are compiled and coordinated to pair you with the advertiser closest to your needs. An entire demographic profile of your spending habits, searches, trips, purchases and interests are compiled and sold. You gave it all away. No one had to steal it.
Think that is wrong? Remember this quote about the use of social media and the Web. “If you are getting all of this free, you are not a customer. You are the product.”
The most comprehensive invasion of personal privacy is not perpetrated by the government or business, but by ourselves.
Facebook users routinely post pictures and information about themselves that would be grounds for a lawsuit if posted by a third party.
While I was managing editor of The Courier News, we cross-referenced a list of U46 elementary teachers with Facebook pages and found what could charitably be described as disturbingly bad judgment and in some cases, thoroughly revolting.
Many of the pages open to public viewing displayed photos of elementary school teachers obviously intoxicated and in one instance, with pants darkened from urine. Another page of a male teacher appeared to be soliciting for very young “friends” to contact him. Photos of young girls were posted on his “wall.”
Employers and prospective employers read your Facebook pages too and no, it is not personal and private once it is in the public domain.
So, don’t bother to draw the shades while you dress. We’ve already seen all there is to see.