Everyday, we all give up a little more of our privacy, whether we know it or not. Some ways are obvious, such as closed circuit cameras (some with microphones), which are being used to monitor us(especially in the UK) or unmanned drones. These are some of the worst because people see their privacy being stolen openly and go along with it in the misguided belief that they are somehow safer. Other ways of infringing our privacy, like web and mobile tracking, happen so invisibly that most people don’t realize it’s happening. The old saying that “knowledge is power” is incredibly accurate and the main problem is that people don’t realize to what degree.
You can tell that people don’t know the true value of information because they often give up the most important information they control, their own private information, incredibly easily. People will often give up all their contact information and home address for a store card that occasionally gives them a discount on an item that they purchase. They think it’s a fair trade. In exchange for sharing a tiny piece of information, they save a few dollars a week. Ok, fair enough. What about the fact that the card you just obtained keeps a history of every purchase you make at that store if you use it? How about the fact that they can link the payment source you used, such as a credit card and could link all the purchases made on that card even if you skip using your store card sometimes?
It’s not a problem though because they can’t do anything with that information, right? I mean you read the terms of the store card when you signed up for it, didn’t you? No? Well, maybe you should have. Some of those cards might have terms that would allow them to share information with a partner company. What if that partner company happened to be your health insurance company and they noted that you buy a lot of junk food, booze and cigarettes. They would definitely use that information to raise your rates. How much money did that store card save you now? I don’t know of any insurance company that is doing that right now, but the stores are tracking your information and if a law doesn’t prevent that, they might use your information that way in the future.
Store cards are not the only vector for collecting that information. Think about all the other places this kind of data might be recorded. Credit card companies know where you shop. The search engines know everything you search for and if you’re logged in to them, everything you view. Service like Facebook and Twitter have access to all the data that you enter there. Data, which is often far more valuable than the service they provide to you in return. The perception of that value is what is driving the values of those companies so incredibly high. Whether they are able to capitalize on that value is immaterial. There’s data gold in them thar hills! And they plan to get it with your help.
I’m not saying to stop sharing your data online or hole yourself up in your house to protect your privacy, but I do think that we should think a little bit more about what information people are gathering about us when we go about our daily routines. If you are going to give up some of your information, get value in return for it and don’t give up any information that might compromise you in the future.