Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Much Is Enough?

Question Mark ?
Normally the title of this post would apply to material things. However, today I'm talking about corporations and the information they compile on us. This is information we usually provide willingly, although most of us don't know the extent of their knowledge nor the lengths corporations go to in order to get it.

I know that I benefit from some of the corporate spying monitoring that goes on. Just this week my credit card company alerted me that I was a victim of fraud. Someone in Fort Lauderdale thought it was a good idea to put over $400 on my credit card at the Hard Rock Cafe. Fortunately, the transaction didn't go through as the credit card company recognized this as outside of my shopping pattern and locale. When this power is being used for good, I welcome it. However, even in this instance it's not really for my benefit as I would not be held responsible for the charge on my card but the bank might be. The credit card company provides this protection for its own self interests.

Do we really realize how much of our privacy we have given up? I remember years ago when there was talk about implanting microchips in people and all the "benefits" we would get out of it. People thought it was creepy, they didn't want to be watched or monitored. Yet today we willingly carry a device that pass on all sorts of information about us, including our exact location at any given moment. That device? Our smartphone. And if that's not enough, we make sure to spread the word, giving away not only our location at times, but the minutiae of our daily lives, through social media.

Recently, though, I started thinking about the ways we depend upon corporations, well beyond the goods and services we expected from them in past decades. Now we send everything up to "the cloud" - our documents, agendas, photographs, music, etc. We would balk at providing so much information to the government, claiming an infringement on privacy. Yet we never pause to think about the companies we trust with our personal data. In this article, Steven Rosenfeld talks about how Americans tend to fear government far more than corporations and how corporations use this to their advantage. 

Another issue is our legacy. In the case of important photos and documents, what would happen should the company where we archive our materials close its doors? This is not as far fetched as one might think. When you look back over the top companies of a few decades ago and you will notice that many of them no longer exist. It's not a matter of if a company should go belly up, but when. With so much competition and such narrow profit margins, it's just common sense that the hot companies of today will be in the corporate graveyard of tomorrow.

Reading Dave Egger's book The Circle really made me stop and examine my willingness to share personal information with impersonal corporations, especially via social media. In this book, the fictional corporation "The Circle" was a creepy place to work - and it had plans to reach far beyond its employees. Then I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In this book, I learned how corporations compile information about us and use it to cleverly manipulate us for their gain. The section on Target's ability to determine that a teen-aged girl was pregnant before she even told her family made me wonder about how much information I inadvertently give to retailers over the course of time. These two books made me take a step back and pause my use of social media. However, I pay a price by doing that. It takes me out of mainstream and I miss out on information that family and friends share. I often appear ill informed and out of touch. Social media is also a convenient place to get news updates that are tailored to my specific interests. But by it's very nature, my picking and choosing what type of news I want to receive relays very personal information back to the company, information it can use and sell for its own benefit.

All that said, the problem is that it is difficult to function in this society without giving up a little of yourself. You want an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family? You need to be on social media - but the companies that own the media also own the information you put out there. You want an easy way to do research? You need to use a search engine - but it will track your searches. You want an easy way to protect your files and photos? You need to use a service that provides cloud storage so you don't lose your data should your computer crash - but you must trust that your data is kept both private and available to you in the future. 

This very platform that I'm using - Blogger - is owned by one of those corporations. Yet I continue to use it because I'm willing to trade a bit of privacy in order to blog.  Like Blogger, many of the services I've mentioned are free and handy and that's why we use them. However, do we really know what we're trading for this convenience? How much information is enough to give up in exchange for the services? And how much is too much? Most important, how do we know when our privacy is being violated?


David said...

Cherie, information is the tool of power in today's corporate world. When I went to apply for social security, a litany of questions was asked of me. One thing I noticed was the interviewer wasn't typing any thing into the computer. I can only assume that the information was already in the computer and she was just checking to see if it was accurate. Another loss of privacy is security cameras. All that's needed is to walk through a major big box store and we will be on camera in almost every isle. Orwell's 1984 and big brother is upon us for sure.

I once worked for a office building cleaning company for a second job. One of my duties was to empty trash cans. After a couple years, I got to know the people that worked there and would have a conversation with them when they worked after hours. One thing they were amazed about was that I would bring up things in conversation that we had not talked about. A person's trash will tell a lot about a person. What their interests are from discarded magazines, what medication their on from empty pill bottles, what they had for lunch, even how long they were at the office by the amount of trash. Such a simple thing as trash can tell a lot about a person so you imagine what can be mined off social media. It's virtually impossible to lead a secret normal life. I don't lay awake at night and worry about it but I do use caution with certain things.

Have a great big brother is watching day.

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

And of course there is Citizen Four, which will freak you out.

I was listening to a story on people automatically clicking the "I Accept" button on privacy agreements without reading them. I actually read one and ended up discontinuing my use of the service. As I leave this comment on my Google g-mail account log-in.

On the flip side, I too have benefited from my credit union knowing that I don't tend to overdraft my account with major purchases at Walgreens.