Am I Too Paranoid?

The Article

Am I too paranoid? I have been asked that question on a few comments, but sometimes in emails or on chats. Some people just think that I take my privacy a little too seriously.

I learned that the website slant.co has a list of top Linux Youtubers, and I was in the list… the post lists positives and negatives and my top comment was that I “Sometimes blow up.” referring of course to my famous fire screen where I yell like a raving lunatic into the camera. Why do I do that? Simply because my fans like it!

But I liked the other comment: “Too paranoid: His paranoid opinions are presented without well enough support.”

This tells me that while I have a lot of the support on my channel, and we see the exploits every Friday night on the news, I have not done a good enough job of lettings the new viewers know why I take such a stand. For that, I apologize! And this video can be used to tell why I take such a stand! Is my paranoia a condition, too far? Or is it an alarm for a coming world where we have lost our most precious asset?

NBC News recently released an article titled, “Online privacy fears are real”. The article describes that the online business is awash with conflicting goals: Businesses want to know as much as they can about you while consumers want to share as little as possible…while at least I would hope. But it is further complicated by criminals who want to break in and steal our data.

Rick Jackson, a privacy advocate and former marketer tells us that more people are tracking us than we realize. As an example he tells us that the top pharmaceutical companies all track everything we do on the internet with the help of tracking scripts (which can be blocked by the way), but then they share notes with each other…each helping to strengthen their position to target advertising to us better…for now.

But that is not the end of the discussion, rather the beginning as we are finding that so many databases contain so much information about us. Some of that data is publicly available but much of it leaks onto the deepweb through data breaches. And those breaches are for companies we have never heard of, never done business with, and had no idea had any of our data to begin with.

According to WebFX, over 4000 American companies exist with no other business model than slurping up data from online trackers, phone apps, shoppers club data, and credit cards. They contain nearly 80% of all email addresses, linked to names, addresses, and even know products, brands, stores you shop in, and the time you usually do your grocery shopping. Each record contains between 1500 and 3000 data points.

So what is the big deal anyway. What if they are just using that data to target us for ads? That is not a big deal. Well, I disagree, but will give you that point for now as I want to discuss the bigger issue rather than chase that rabbit right now. I am concerned with the bigger picture. The fact this data can be used to track you down in a world that seems to be becoming unhinged every single day. So lets looks at these other examples.

The most famous and enduring case is when Target sent certain advertisements to a teenage girl. Now, I know what you are thinking, “I thought you were not concerned about the ads?” I am not. It was the juncture of information. These specific ads were about pregnancy, they were targeting her with specific advertising because the things she attached to her Target account suggested she had a high probability of being pregnant. They knew, from her specific data, that she, specifically, was pregnant! She got the ads for baby products while the neighbor received car waxing coupons. So that means someone at the company, if they desired, could look up specifically “pregnant women”, could get the name, could get the address. If that data is available to a mailer, it is available to some people at the company, and to hackers who had gained access to that data.

“But this data is protected.” one may argue. But it is not protected enough. I used to work for a software sales of K-college education software and even I, as a work-at-home contractor, could login to the data and see the actual grades of K-12 students anywhere in the country. Of course, let’s not forget the recent Capital One breach. 106 million records were stolen by an employee of the cloud service where the records were stored.

Our next reason for my concern on all this data collection involved neither a hacker nor a rogue employee, but rather, was instigated by a government authority. King County in Washington state sent out 40,000 letters to alleged pet owners telling them they had to register their pet with the county or face a fine. The county responding by saying, “This is not King County going and grabbing this data, you know, big brother watching what you buy at the grocery store,” but it was third-party doctrine. The company collects the data, and the government uses it for their own purposes. Of course, the store where the data came from says they do not sell such data, and the county says they received the data from a marketing firm, which obtained the data from the anonymized data from the store…but it was easy to figure out who is who.

The bottom line of this case is that the government, either directly or via proxy, was able to figure out exactly who was using shopper card data to buy what type of products. What if they want to start using such data looking for over the counter pharmaceuticals, tobacco products, or something more evil, like meat! What will make people question the use of these cards? What will cause us to be concerned that the government knows what we buy at the store?

But sometimes the government is not the biggest concern. BigData collects and stores so much data, as we have seen, but it is not just collecting data from online sources. Bloomburg reported a deal between Google and Mastercard to give credit card data to Google as part of its broader attempt to dominate the ad market. The data will allow Google and it’s ad buyers to determine if a person who saw an advertisement on Google later went on to purchase the product either online or offline. While they say the data is anonymized, we know such data can be easily reverse engineered. We also know that data can be viewed from within the dashboard of the Google user and that the users can opt out of this data. Did you opt out? Did you know you could?

Speaking of data collection, Google also tracks what you buy online and offline if you happen to be using gmail and have receipts sent to your address. If you have purchased something at BestBuy or Lowes recently, you may have been asked if you want your receipt emailed to you. The purpose is supposed to be ‘saving on paper’ or ‘customer convenience’ but every time you are convenienced, your data is probably being used. CNBC released an article in May 2019 about the data collection by Google. They report that Google has been saving a record of your purchases for years. While Sundar Pichai is correct you can technically turn this collection off, it is difficult to do, and most users do not know Google is collecting such data to remove it!

The biggest problem as we have said here is the possible future use of data. Being targeting in advertising is not good, but I am not concerned with that at present. I am concerned with the fact that so much data is out there and there is presently no good way to deal with it. There is no way to tell all companies, “You can’t have my data!” There is no telling if those companies will properly secure it from hackers, or from rogue employees.

Of a deeper concern, is we are only one election cycle from a tyrant entering office and forcing the companies to give that data, for whatever reason, to the government. That is presently required in China. We must not fall into the trap of thinking it cannot happen here. It will, and the more we ignore the privacy issues, the faster tyranny will be forced upon us.

I leave you with a choice. And we have two options at this juncture. We can simply declare that there is no privacy and continue on, consuming without thought or consequence. We can take the easy path, that without resistance. Remember, before we start down that path, that the great C.S. Lewis wrote, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” The easy path leads to a place we do not want to be.

Or we can do something different. Something to take a stand. We will not talk about exactly what we need to do right now, but just examine your life, your entertainment, your pleasures. Are you allowing convenience to suck you into the good life or are you taking specific actions to safeguard as much of your private life you can? Are you using operating systems that collect less data? Are you skipping the credit card and using cash? Are you sending your purchase receipts to Google or using a shopper card? Ask yourself what you can start doing differently today.

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