While that’s often associated with a sarcastic remark to someone who’s perhaps revealed too intimate of details about themselves, I’m actually referring to something else entirely — the disturbing amount of information others have on us.
The truth of the matter is that we’re identified and profiled by a staggering amount of statistics in the modern world. Unless you’ve somehow managed to go completely off-the-grid (extremely unlikely for probably 99.9% of the population), you’re in thousands upon thousands of databases in the following ways:
- Names (full birth name and any additional or alternative legal names)
- Birth Date
- Hair Color
- Eye Color
- Social Security Number
- Phone Numbers
- Medical Records
- School Records
- Church Records
- Criminal Records
- DMV Records
- Voting Records
- Travel Records
- Phone Records
- Text Records
- Email Records
- Marriage Records
- Divorce Records
- Death Records
- Court Records
- Purchase Records
- Credit Card Records
- Income Records
- Internet Records
- Endless Others
Furthermore, from when you leave your house to when you return home, most of your journey and stops are likely recorded on security cameras (traffic cameras, parking lot cameras, etc.), not to mention the GPS on your phone. Where this might have been science fiction in the 80s – 90s and considered conspiracy theory by some naive people today, it’s definitely a reality.
Granted, almost all of this data has a legitimate purpose for being stored in a database, usually for your own security and verification. However, it already is being used in undesirable ways for most people. And that’s advertising (or having your information sold where you end up on lists for junk mail and spam). Between Facebook, Google, and other huge companies, they pretty much know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g about you. This results in creepily, highly-targeted, and specific ads just for you.
As a Facebook user for example, you’re a consumer demographic. If you think Facebook “cares” about you other than the money-making machine that you are, you’re as naive as they come. Facebook’s CEO himself even, admitted to calling users “dumb f*cks” for the amount of info they’re willing to blindly give up. That’s actually quite refreshing, you know why? Because that’s what most big companies think of us, only they hide that fact. Sad but true, that’s just business.
I actually have to agree, a lot of Facebook users are pretty dumb. Back when I used to use Facebook for personal use (friends and family — I still use it for work), I would see people posting the most personal things all the time. Things like what they’d done with their significant others the night before, sharing personal addresses and phone numbers, intimate photos, and the list goes on. I’m the kind of guy that tells people when they have food on their face so I would comment on these things to let them know “You know just about anyone can see this. Not just your immediate family and friends.” They were clearly “red-face” moments because the content would always be deleted pretty much immediately.
Now, that’s pretty much the innocent side of what our information is used for daily, but what about the scarier side? Well, about half of all that info is publicly available for free and most of the other half available for $5-$10 through a quick online checkout (completely legal mind you). Passwords, PINs, and SSNs, are obviously a little bit more secured, but if someone wants it, they’ll hire someone to get it. Websites and databases are hacked all the time.
What can actually be done with your info?
- Identity Theft: For the purpose of cleaning out your bank accounts, destroying your credit, and possibly doing any number of illegal things in your name that can come back on you.
- Stalkers: For the purpose of knowing where you live, what you’re doing, and who you know.
- Competition: If you’re a company owner for example, competitors might go to great lengths to ruin your reputation.
And what about the conspiracy theory stuff?
Well, I highly doubt you or anyone you know are interesting or important enough for government agencies or criminal groups to tap into your information. If you are interesting enough, of course anyone in power can know just about anything they want to learn about you. Though, if you’re that interesting, that will likely in return mean that you’re smart enough to use technology carefully and anonymously anyway, or so you’d think.
But, for low-level criminals, law enforcement uses Facebook, MySpace, craigslist, etc. all the time to catch the bad guys.
We can go back and forth all day about the extremes of how information and technology can be used for positive or negative means, but the bottom line is principle. I just bought software online and here’s all the information that was required in order for me to make that purchase:
- For Personal or Business Use?
- First Name
- Last Name
And we’re talking about paying via PayPal for a digital product where the only thing that is really needed is an email address. Granted, some countries (not the US) require this info for tax purposes, but this is rare.
While that doesn’t apply to everyone (I assume that not all my readers are computer nerds), here’s an example we can all relate to:
Many places, while purchasing groceries, gas, clothes, or whatever, require you to provide a phone number!!! How inappropriate is that? It doesn’t matter that these things have become common place, it’s not okay and we need to draw a line.
Now, I’m not really terrified of what my local grocer is going to do with my phone number mind you, obviously they’re going to text me coupons or who knows what (likely something of only a minor annoyance), but it’s a matter of principal. Whenever I purchase something and they ask me for personal info that is entirely inappropriate and unnecessary I just say “No.” which usually results in a few rounds of annoying conversation, so I updated my approach to “I don’t have a phone number.” which works maybe 50% of the time.
The other 50% of the time results in what I would consider a reflection of our poor education system, confusion: “But, but, I have to put in your number… the computer requires it.” Which always results in a “face-palm” moment for me at their inability to think critically, “So, just put in 000-000-0000 or whatever.”
Privacy is pretty much gone today, that is, if you want to play ball and live in urban and even rural areas. There’s always the wilderness. I suspect that’s not a desired path for most though.
I’m curious. It’s been a while since I ran a new poll: