What’s Left of Your Privacy?

Should you have any doubts about the seriousness of how your privacy has been eroded, Google yourself.
 
Google your own name, then glance to the right. One of the sponsored advertising links is likely to offer quick online investigation services. For a nominal fee you can order up a dossier on yourself, with information culled from lending records, motor vehicle records, tax records, and court records. You might even get a photograph. It’s a little galling, perhaps, to see how easy it’s become to assemble the bare facts of your life, but no particular shock. These always were public records, after all. It’s just a question of increased access and speed.
 
What’s more discomfiting is the electronic penetration into records that were supposed to be confidential — your lifelong purchasing habits, for instance, or the results of personality tests for jobs, your school records, your voting history, credit report, resume, financial history, and the details of your adventures online (if any).
 
One compromised database behind the scenes interfaces with another; those two triangulate with two dozen more; soon they’ve wired together this document here, on the screen, a full constellation of the facts of your life.
 
This doesn’t even mention any of the more qualitative data about your odd tastes and your private desires that you may have shared on Twitter, on Facebook, on emails (which have always been non-secure), on your blog, to go on and on.
 
Extremely personal? Yes.
 
True? Most of it, yes.
 
Never mind any embarrassment, is this dangerous to you? Undeniably yes!
 
It’s not that the stakes are low. Ask anyone who’s had the ugly, expensive experience of having his identity stolen. This is old news, really. Reports of millions of compromised credit card numbers is so routine it’s hardly worth mentioning anymore, while the companies involved mumble weak apologies and promise to try to do better.
 
There’s recent news that the site Wikileaks, which traffics in making leaked documents available online to anyone, somehow got hold of almost two million postal codes in the U.K. and are publishing the lot. Not a direct privacy threat, but certainly it’s another mass of detailed data that will be used to support and extend the view of those who are interested in you.
 
What’s left to us? It’s important that we get past the old privacy questions, overtaken by events ten years ago, and deal with any residual indignation. It’s too late for that. Better to try to think through what comes next. It might have to do with correcting this data — some of it will be comically wrong — and minimize the damage it can do you. It might be identifying and cultivating the parts of your life that are free from observation, as a sort of psychological stronghold of identity.
 
Or it might be the opposite: learning to live with utter transparency, extending an open invitation to anyone who wants to look through.
 
What is true though if the information you find on this site will help minimize the possible damage caused through loss of privacy online.

 

 

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