Struggle

Privacy

A long, rambling rant wherein our hero vents his frustrations. There's not much rhyme or reason to this, so think of it as a trickle of consciousness (a stream would be doing it too much justice).

As I work in the Web industry and get a chance to see first-hand how poor security is on many Web sites, I don't shop online. Usually.

One company sent me an email saying that they could not automatically renew my services because my credit card information was out of date. Well, this is true. I was issued a new credit card number by my bank and I no longer have my old credit card.

When I went to update my credit card information, I had to enter a security key -- my old credit card number. I don't have that number any more! I never thought to keep it. Why would I? The company doesn't appear to have provisions to email me that number (which is a good thing), but I now realize how serious this issue is. Credit card numbers are not that difficult to obtain. You throw your receipts in the trash, they get stored in databases, waiters get to see them. Now I have a service which can reveal personal information about me based upon other relatively easy to obtain personal information. There's nothing compromising there, but it irks me.

Admittedly, we have little privacy. If I had the time and inclination, I could easily build an extensive profile about someone without ever touching a computer. The computer merely gives me an opportunity to augment this information. I used to find people as a hobby. One time, a friend asked me to find an old friend of his that he couldn't locate. I asked a few questions and it took me half an hour to track her down. I found my brother through four years of patient digging. My father, who was actively trying to avoid being found and lived overseas, took only two hours to find. I almost tracked down an adoptee's parent once (I compiled a list of some possible last names and the high school she probably graduated from). If we're determined, we can find just about anything.

I suppose that maintaining one's personal privacy is akin to "security through obscurity". We just hope that people don't put the pieces together, or, like many well-known figures, we avoid things that might reflect poorly upon us if discovered. We are constantly recorded, watched, tracked, etc.

You want to know the real dope about Alice? Don't ask Alice. Don't ask her friends. Ask her friend's friends. If Bob is a friend of Alice, Bob might tell Charlie about some of the things that Alice has done. If I ask Bob, he might cover for Alice, but if Charlie doesn't know Alice too well, he might just blab. You can also search through through Alice's trash. Heck, you can give her a call and see what's she's foolish enough to reveal over the phone. I suppose it's always been this way, but a presumption of privacy is foolish.

Nothing is truly secure, except the thoughts we keep in our head and never express. I wonder how long that will last.