Stop Looking at Me

What a weird world I’ve wakened into. I was sitting on my back porch contemplating the number of dandelion plants the wind had turned into dirty bombs, irradiating the neighborhood lawns with the seeds of broadleaf destruction. I wasn’t thinking about the dandelions, really. In a few days they would be curling and cringing into oblivion, thanks to the poison recently sprayed on them. What I was thinking about was the news about the National Security Agency and their collection of network based information. Internet, phone nets, media nets …the whole cabbage of our reaching out to touch someone. I was not so stunned that organizations and companies whose names are prominent in services were being tapped for information, I’d assumed for quite some time that there were few, if any, places where we enjoy privacy. What was amazing me was the technology that permitted the collection, on such a gargantuan scale, to be done. But as I thought about it, I was less and less amazed. For some time now I have been talking about the loss of privacy and our own direct responsibility for its loss.

Decades ago, I remember that the Lotus company was in the news when they had a CD set they were offering that contained the personal information of virtually everyone in a given community. People had a cow over the idea that anyone with the fee could find out about people’s work and home life, where they shopped, what they bought, their schedules, their political leanings and much, much more. Never mind that in this day and age most people offer this information themselves as they post to social media sites, often unaware that their cumulative posts have provided this data, back in those days the illusion of privacy was much more robust. Today, many are disconcerted by the reach of agencies to tap into lives at the click of a mouse even though they clicked the terms of service agreements on the long list of online services they use. The fact is, what people are upset about the NSA doing, as huge in scope as it is, still can’t hold a candle to the information available to marketing organizations. When you consider the Lotus offering all those years ago, before computers became so central to everyday life in the majority of households, just imagine what those data files look like held in the bowels of product promotion houses. Advertising is being individually targeted now. The waste of shotgun advertising is a large stumbling block to the companies paying for promotion. About ten years ago I ran across some details about marketing that said that for every thousand people experiencing ads for a specific product, less than a single percentage point purchased the advertised item. Now it’s still a minuscule number, but it has crawled into the single digits of percents, at time reaching almost to double digits of percents. That’s a huge gain.

It’s only going to get better for advertisers as the information about us builds in the various dossiers that exist on us all. Never mind the government having such a clear view into the habits and ideals of John and Jane Everybody, the people who want you to use their toothpaste, buy their electronics, drive their cars, drink their beer, …whatever will have a much more cohesive and complete view than Uncle Sam is likely to. After all, in and of itself the government has restrictions and oversight that the private sector is not burdened with –especially since so many people click “I Agree” on so many terms of service agreements. Of course, very few people actually read those agreements. They go on for days and use confusing legalese terminology that boggles the mind; just how many people are going to wade through all of that when all they want is to play a game, read the weather forecast or watch television or something. I was kind of amazed at what I agreed to when I signed up for DirecTV –whose terms of service I happened to read through one day because I was bored. I basically had told them that if they could find it out, they were welcome to know it and could share and use that information in any way they chose. Of course, the service terms for Microsoft Windows made DirecTV’s look like a lightweight.

My point here is that we shouldn’t be too upset about the government intruding on us, not when the information they are getting is data that we have signed off on already for the companies we deal with to do with as they please. We said that these companies can share our information with partners, subsidiaries and other third parties –and not only that, we agreed that they could change the terms of service at their own whim and discretion, and do so without giving us any notice, never mind a way to interrupt the collection or transfer of data. If you don’t want the government finding out things about you, then quit letting others collect that information. Sure, you may well go off grid and live in a lean-to in Antarctica and never deal with another human being, but the fact you left, where you went and what you took with you will still be available. We have no real privacy anymore because we threw it away, failing to see what we were giving up because we were blinded by awesome technologies, convenience and even thrift. We cannot live in a society so technologically capable without leaving our digital fingerprints and DNA everywhere we go. It’s especially true for those of us who write personal blogs.