Privacy is Dead; Get Used To It

From the Overlooked News Department,…. At a recently held (November 9th) congressional hearing regarding privacy, nine (9) major data mining sites testified and answered a number of rather startling and revealing questions (as reported in – among them:

Their responses, released Thursday, show that some companies record — and then resell — your screen names, web site addresses, interests, hometown and professional history, and how many friends or followers you have.

* Some companies also collect and analyze information about users’ “tweets, posts, comments, likes, shares, and recommendations,” according to Epsilon, a consumer data company. 

* Acxiom, one of the nation’s largest consumer data companies, said in its letter to lawmakers that it collects information about which social media sites individual people use, and “whether they are a heavy or a light user.” The letter also says Acxiom tracks whether individuals “engage in social media activities such as signing onto fan pages or posting or viewing YouTube videos.”

* Epsilon, a consumer data company that works with catalog and retail companies, said that it may use information about social media users’ “names, ages, genders, hometown locations, languages, and a numbers of social connections (e.g., friends or followers).” It also works with information about “user interactions,” like what people tweet, post, share, recommend, or “like.”

* Data companies of course, do not stop with the information on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Intelius, which offers everything from a reverse phone number look up to an employee screening service, said it also collects information from Blogspot, WordPress, MySpace, and YouTube. This information includes individual email addresses and screen names, web site addresses, interests, and professional history, Intelius said. It offers a “Social Network Search” on its website that allows you to enter someone’s name and see a record of social media URLs for that person.

In the words of Captain Renault (from the movie ‘Casablanca’) “shocking to see gambling taking place in this establishment!”

Everyone knows this is taking place – and so what?

Actually, it is getting to be a rather big deal. One of the key factors which lead to the re-election of President Obama ( it was the very use of this data which lead to extremely well-targeted listings and action items:

…campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.

None of this should come as any surprise. As far back as 1997, my colleagues and I had written a number of articles and reports on this trend. As noted in an article for ASIS (American Society for Information Science) presented during the 1997 Washington, DC conference (, I noted that:

We are witness to the demise of our notions of privacy; this trend is congruent with rapid technological development. Luddites could argue that as technology grows, privacy dissipates; thus, technology must be curbed (so the argument goes). The genie is, however, well out of the bottle. Modern conveniences and economic advantages far outweigh any notions of denying the benefits and comforts which we amply enjoy. … In the coming century, our identities will be how we appear on innumerable databases; our visage reflected in the hidden cameras and how we stand within society’s walls defined in the roll calls of databases. The time is right, therefore, to educate both the public and legislators about the relationship between ourselves and the tools which gather information about us and our fellows.

And this was back in 1997.

We’ve well surpassed the point of no return: as Lutz’s Law of Privacy states, there is an inverse relationship between privacy and convenience: the more of one, the less of the other. Add into the mix wireless / handheld communications devices and now, more than ever before, you are who and how you appear within the electronic realm. Arguably, you and how you appear electronically is more important than how you appear in person as job recruiters, credit agencies, services or strangers who wish to meet and greet you will judge you more by how you exist online than how you are in person.

Competition is everywhere: whether be it for those seeking elected office or businesses seeking an edge and expanding their costumer base. Now, more than ever before, how and who you present yourself as is more important than ever before. Increasingly, you will find others – employers, potential clients, contacts – determining and deciding whether or not to work with you / hire you on the basis of what you post or whom you associate with – and as the evidence suggests, this is going beyond just your posting the photos of that ‘lost weekend’ on your Facebook page that you and your fraternity buddies did.

Wondering why you didn’t get that job or obtain that contract? Think  about it.

But before you let your paranoia get the best of you, just remember: it can work both ways. Given the increasing reliance folks have in using online services, who’s to say that you couldn’t beef up your profile more and gain the edge you need?

So the next time you consider LinkedIn, consider also MyBrand as well as revisiting your Facebook page. Add more appropriate pictures and keep your personal commentary through more secure means. Be careful with whom you associate with and who you link up to.

You never know who’s watching – or who would be interested in tapping you for opportunities you didn’t know existed,…


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