I am not a number, I am a free man! – I am not a consumer, I am a free man!

imageThere are those happy occasions when a reader’s comment here is so insightful, that the comment deserves to be highlighted as a stand alone post. Comments from Mark Schneider, Michael Fisher, John Bent, and several other readers, have been highlighted previously, using this criteria.

Following a recent opinion piece – Open Source BleachBit 0.9.3 – Deletes HTML5 Cookies – which detailed the rise of a new threat to personal privacy, regular reader RedNightHawk offered this comment for consideration and discussion.

I think you’ll find it worthwhile to evaluate the issues raised in RedNightHawk’s perceptive comment.

“I usually check the Options/Settings/Preferences of my browser after an upgrade to make sure I haven’t lost any settings, and to see what’s new. I remember when I saw an option to allow HTML5 to use local storage (and a sub-option to delete any files on close), I refused to allow any local storage.

I did that for the same reason I used to have my flash storage set to zero – I didn’t know what all the storage would be used for, and if it’s optional then it’s clearly not needed for the technology to work.

I eventually wound up enabling local flash storage (some sites wouldn’t work without it enabled), once I got the NirSoft program that deleted LSO’s, and I used a program that sat in the tray and let me turn the flash bit on and off so I wouldn’t get cookies when I was just surfing; only when I actually wanted to see some particular flash content.

My current most-used browser allows me to click on specific flash objects if I want to allow them. What a pain this all is (how inconvenient!), and here’s the kicker – just a few days ago, thanks to a link in your Tech Thoughts, I was reading about a tracking company trade group CEO telling Senators he thought the industry was doing a good job of policing itself and legislation wasn’t needed to control tracking, or protect privacy.

When mechanical gadgets first started being made it was for convenience – to benefit us by freeing up time for other things. Now, in the information age, the CON part of convenience seems to be prevalent. Corporations know we’ll make poor decisions and put convenience above things like privacy, nutrition, financial well-being, etc.

Too often a gadget or technological breakthrough is a mere piece of cheese, luring the consumer into a trap – the worst kind of trap: one which they never realize they’re in. Are we mice now, destined to live our lives running around the mazes they create for us?

I’m reminded more and more of the opening of the TV series The Prisoner where Patrick McGoohan yells out, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” More and more there’s times when I feel like grabbing a CEO’s lapels and yelling, “I am not a consumer, I am a free man!” Think the message would get through?”

–   RedNightHawk

P.S.
Dan Tapscott has an interesting series about privacy in the digital age on The Star’s website that you and your readers might be interested in:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1204668

8 Comments

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8 responses to “I am not a number, I am a free man! – I am not a consumer, I am a free man!

  1. Munch

    The Prisoner was awesome.I actually have on my desk right now a postcard from Protmeirion where it was filmed. 🙂

  2. hipockets

    We have to realize that we will never be able to stop the data mining about us, unless we throw all of our web-enabled tools in a giant rock crusher and set the crushing force to high. Even then, there’s driver licenses and records, utility bills, travel information, purchases [ even cash, if you ever have any :>) ], and on and on an on….

    There’s no question that we need to work toward having information collected only with our knowledge and permission. However, we also need to look at the problem in a larger context, as mentioned in your link to Dan Tapscott’s article (http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1204668):

    “…..sharing personal information is becoming so beneficial and so widespread that we need to shift the discussion from what to share to how to ensure the information is used appropriately.”

    • Hey Hipockets,

      It’s abundantly clear, that data mining companies and the web sites that support them, have no ethical standards, nor moral qualms, when it comes to the invasive practices of collecting personal data. Frankly, I’m less than impressed by articles authored by social scientists, who wouldn’t know their arse from their elbow, who set out to convince the great pool of unsophisticated computer users that privacy is a dead issue.

      No, I refuse to drink the Kool-aid, and in my view, data mining companies’ current practices border on the criminal. It’s long past the time when these parasites need to be tightly regulated and transgressors punished.

      I find it more than a little curious that we seem to have reached a point where there is a stigma attached to the “private person.” Fight for the right to privacy and the “big stick” is raised – by both government, and enterprise. Here in Canada – those who opposed tabled legislation which would have given the government unprecedented access to computer users data, were labelled as being supportive of “child pornographers” – by the government.

      Personally, I will continue to advocate for the right to privacy.

      Best,

      Bill

    • RedNightHawk

      Hey Hipockets,

      Just to make sure there’s no confusion, I wanted to expand the quote you mentioned a bit: “Other influential thought leaders like Tim O’Reilly (who coined the term Web 2.0) or Stewart Brand (author of the Whole Earth Catalogue) defend an individual’s right to privacy. But they argue that sharing personal information is becoming so beneficial and so widespread that we need to shift the discussion from what to share to how to ensure the information is used appropriately. “I’d be totally happy if my personal DNA mapping was published,” says Brand.”

      Tapscott mentions we need to start weighing the actual benefits against the real dangers associated with sharing that information. There’s nothing stopping companies from using online profiles (even inaccurate ones like Spokeo was selling) from making decisions about things like hiring you, how much to charge for your insurance (if they even give you insurance after seeing the pictures of you skydiving), or amalgamating information from databases that were never meant to be cross-indexed. You may never know what information was used or have a chance to see that information yourself, since you may never know that database exists, let alone correct any mistakes in it.

      Every once in a while you’ll hear about some archaic law from years past that’s still on the books and seems laughable in our current society, but on the flip side technology and tracking have outpaced the laws that control them. Having a driver’s licence is one thing, but if it had a built in RFID chip that was read everytime I entered any building, and the buildings I went into were being examined and judgements made based on that, you can bet I’d be asking why. Why is that something that’s needed for the service provided? How is that information used, who else will get it, and how will they use it?

      Just how is a phone company in the States allowed to sell the location of a person to the police? Why isn’t that the sort of thing that would need need a court review to justify the need for? How did a corporation get the right to decide that, and how much (if at all) can we trust their judgement when money is involved?

      I don’t think we have to bury our heads in the sand to technology to avoid tracking – we just have to speak out. If only so that the Senator who was pushing for udpated laws knows his actions are supported – that people do care about these issues. Tracking doesn’t have to be built-in to these things. The lengths companies go to hide tracking and prevent us from stopping them from tracking shows they know we don’t like it, but they don’t care. They won’t care until we pressure law-makers into making them care.

      I don’t want to have to spend time thinking about privacy and protecting my information, but more and more it’s getting to the point where I have no choice – the benefits seem to be diminishing and the dangers increasing. It’s too bad, cause I don’t mind being a consumer some of the time, I just refuse to have that supplant my real identity.

      Thanks for highlighting the comment, Bill. I was pretty busy so I didn’t have a chance to comment on your post for a couple of days, but figured anyone who needed to see it would. Guess that’s all the more likely now.

      – RedNightHawk

      P.S. In the end, The Prisoner did make it off the island – away from the bizarre networked society that was created just to watch his every move in an eternal quest for infomation.

      • Thanks for expanding on this issue, RedNightHawk.

        Let me add – I’ve just gotten the results of a new Harris Interactive commissioned survey, which is under embargo until after July 17 but, I’d like to offer this from that survey:

        “Nearly every American (98%) says there are things that cause them to distrust the information found on the Internet”.

        I’ll expand on this in an upcoming post.

        Best,

        Bill