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Paying For Privacy

Buying back your own privacy. The high cost of keeping your personal information personal.

Blackberry mobile phones (AP)


For most people, every five minute stroll on the web, the Internet, is a five-minute undressing. Websites snatching, saving, selling information on every click you make, every bit of personal data they can grab.

Web companies say it’s in the interest of consumer convenience and personalization. Privacy advocates say it’s out of control.

Back in the day, we presumed privacy until we saw in “invaded”. Today, many people presume a kind of nakedness on the web. These days you can have to pay to buy your own privacy back.

This hour On Point: the new frontiers of privacy.

- Tom Ashbrook


Nick Bilton, technology reporter and the lead writer for the Bits blog on NYTimes.com.  He is author of “I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works.”

Esther Dyson, angel investor in internet startups, regular commentator on emerging digital technology and the former chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Latanya Sweeney, visiting professor at Harvard University’s Center for Research on Computation and Society. She is also the founder and director of the Data Privacy Lab, which seeks to shape the evolving relationship between technology and the right to privacy.

Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com and author of “Wild West 2.0.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Cory

    A wonderful defense against invasion of privacy is being dirt poor and irrelevant.

    • AnonyPope

      Speaking truth to power seems to negate this. Even here, it seems that at least some of the posters have been investigated to a certain degree.

      It’s not enough to be poor. You have to be poor and dumb, and believe in the “first story ” given by the totalitarian media organizations.

      Even seeming gadflies like John Stewart (Bill Maher is a little more coherent though still a part of the seeming opposition of the puppet show. That’s the show we have where Punch and Judy are up there on stage seeming to battle it out. But behind the curtain you find that it is the same person with his hand up their spines.) Have you ever noticed how Stewart is all “for truth justice and the American way” until Obama, or Rice, or even Rumsfeld is his guest, then he is so polite and not even circuitously confrontational?

      Me I am still waiting for the Iraqi oil revenues to cover all the American expenses of the war. Like Rumsfeld promised the country. Something Stewart should have brought up.

      American privacy has been continually eroded since the sixties. It began with the laws to combat illegal drugs, back when illegal drugs were a threat because they were actually in many cases slapping people out of their stupor and shaking them awake (in a distorted manner) so they caught a glimpse of the puppet show they were a part of. Now of course the only drugs that are used by the masses have exactly the opposite effect. With the exception of herb which can go either way, depending on the neural disposition of the user.

      There are many ways to bolster you privacy. There are free programs that encrypt the traffic between your wireless device and a wireless router, though most of the more common ones have long been cracked.

      There is TOR which allows you to browse the internet more or less anonymously, depending on how you use it and just how interested and wealthy any person or organization who may be interested in you is.


      There are excellent free programs like TrueCrypt that will encrypt your hard drive on the fly and if used correctly make it near impossible for an unauthorized party to read.


      Their is the free to use encrypted form of Google (bet you didn’t know about that) Which will keep WHAT you search for, but not your surfing, private.


      There are a host of Virtual Private Networks that you can subscribe to. Many of them based in countries that have stringent privacy laws. And I suspect that some of them are based in international waters. Some of them maintain no records and allow people to use anonymous forms of payment, also based off-shore. This is where it would get expensive because someone would first have to exchange funds with an exchanger then have the exchanger purchase a virtual currency from an off-shore company like Liberty in Costa Rica, and pay them extra above the rate of one of their currencies to keep your transaction anonymous, and then finally use those funds with a VPN provider who accepts them. Then the VPN could be airtight, depending on its level of encryption and once again your exposure to highly motivated and monied parties.


      There are many free anonymous email providers which vary in what they offer and the degree of protection they offer.

      There is also peerblock, which can block access by lists of ips from your ports. Mine is currently blocking over a billion different ips from pinging my computer. And which will keep a list of those that try to connect and those that do if you want it to.


      There have been people working on anonymous P2P for years now, and they getting better.


      The main determinant of privacy on line is how much someone is willing to spend in the way of time and money to compromise your privacy.

      When it comes to cellular devices, forget it. They can tell were your are when you use one. If you think that your cell phone conversations are private, you are a fool. Look at the great bruhaha over Skype. Of course if you are of no interest to anyone then they probably are sort of private.

      Think about it. Is digital cable private? Given the capacity, which they have. Why would they not collect the information of every channel and program you watch and sell it in a data base?
      Like happens with every purchase you make with a credit card, anywhere.

      Nothing you do on the internet is private unless you have taken steps to make it so, and even then is someone really wants to identify you they probably can.

      • JF766

        Oh, the Jon Stewart guest I love the most (because it points out the hypocrisy) is T. Boone Pickens and his self-serving promotion of natural gas (you know, the stuff that makes people’s tap water flammable in “Gasland”?). And Stewart just sits there and says nothing. Listen Jon, you are at least trying…but really, T. Boone Pickens???!!!?

  • Zeno

    Due to our corporate plutocracy… the consumer is always the responsible party and must opt out of having ALL of their information being sold over and over again. Once these any or all of these companies sell your information to an entity that might cause a corporate loss we are notified in the strongest terms that we should not have been so careless with our information, and we bear the full responsibility in cost and time to recover our identity and credit.

    What are credit agencies collecting and selling?.. Its your share price in the corporate market. It is the value that corporations have decided for your worth in corporate America. Isn’t it nice that they do that for FREE.

    Interesting that the representatives of “the people” have NEVER mandated that the system should be by default Opt In and support freedom from the selling of individual privacy. But we know who Congress actually represents…and its not “the people of the United States”.

    • Stillin

      I was also billed on a charge card for several ” subscriptions, online” that I did NOT ever sign up for, ever request etc. How did my card get billed without my permission? I hit a REBATE button on my travelocity London tickets, and when I hit ” would you like a 25.00 rebate for these flights? ” …oh silly me, I thought they MEANT it. I hit yes, I am interested in a rebate and so through travelocity I got billed by other corporations. I ended up calling Travelocity..”oh we are so sorry, see , we sell those ads ( even a rebate is an ad?) and so we have nothing to do with that. I had to call all of them and get them off my card. Pain in the ass.

      • Zeno

        The troubling thing about these charges is that they are made with the security code. I never gave it out to this company, but they stated that the charge could not be made without it.

        • Freefillbill

          Damn, you have all the luck. Maybe someday someone will invent an instant karma program which will instantly cause anyone an equal amount of headaches in their dealings as they do to others.

          Wait a minute I have a feeling there may be an aphorism in there somewhere. “As they do to others.”. . .hmmm let me think about that. We may be onto something here. :)

  • Michael

    Want to limit folks selling your privacy, stop posting your personal information on Facebook. Which now sells your information, address, and phone # to third party groups.

    Then you have those hidden cookies that websites like to use to gather information from you, NPR has a bunch as well. That create a profile of what you do and where you go online. It’s legal cause they don’t attach your name to it.


    • AnonyPope

      Here is the solution to those hidden cookies: a good firewall, and more important, switch to FireFox and use the Better Privacy plugin. Then you can completely control them.

    • AnonyPope

      I forgot to say that this is not only facebook that uses those type of cookies. Actually I do not know anyone dumb enough to use facebook under their own name, so any info that is used is just bull if you use a psuedo. that cannot be traced. An easy thing to do with a VPN and TOR used in conjunction. I personally never use or go to facebook. People don’t really understand that the net can only do so many things, these are just repackaging of the same functions over and over in different guises. But I hear some people farm on facebook (according to South Park) boy that must be interesting– virtual farming. Why not watch virtual paint dry?

  • Michael

    Facebook’s privacy policy

    Just for fun, try substituting the words ‘Big Brother’ whenever you read the word ‘Facebook’

    1 We will advertise at you

    “When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalised features.”

    2 You can’t delete anything

    “When you update information, we usually keep a backup copy of the prior version for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information.”

    3 Anyone can glance at your intimate confessions

    “… we cannot and do not guarantee that user content you post on the site will not be viewed by unauthorised persons. We are not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site. You understand and acknowledge that, even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable in cached and archived pages or if other users have copied or stored your user content.”

    4 Our marketing profile of you will be unbeatable

    “Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg, photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience.”

    5 Opting out doesn’t mean opting out

    “Facebook reserves the right to send you notices about your account even if you opt out of all voluntary email notifications.”

    6 The CIA may look at the stuff when they feel like it

    “By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States … We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies.”

    • BHA in Vermont

      Yet another reason not to have a Facebook account. No one in my family has one and we don’t feel we are missing out.

  • Prototypist

    We will only get better protection of privacy when the personal medical, psychiatric, and financial documents of members of Congress and the federal judiciary–and their children–begin to be hacked and published online. Once we see who’s being treated for major psychiatric disorders and illnesses like STDs and AIDS, or investing in companies that are securing contracts through legislation they’re proposing, the bits will hit the fan. But not until.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDH4GYJMIUFU373W3XUQVD2V4E Patrick

    Germans understand, from their Stasi past, that surveillance should be avoided and they’ve adopted strong laws that say one is empowered to keep aspects of their personal life away from their professional life, and vice versa. The so-called “good guys” in WWI, we and the UK, have no idea what we’re heading towards.

  • http://ibelieveinbutter.wordpress.com/ Soli

    I don’t know if this is going to get covered given the nature of the subject, but there’s now a “porn wikileaks” scandal, of hackers releasing information from the adult industry medical health care foundation, revealing STD/HIV test results, real names, addresses, etc.
    Congress may not be all that far behind for this sort of reveal.

  • Kmh5004

    I definitely like the opt out idea. I like that google can track my searches, to tailor advertising to me, but I don’t like anyone tracking my emails or pretty much anything facebook tries to do.

  • Stillin

    Big brother just getting bigger and bigger, the corporations own us, we are like plantation workers. I am soooooooo glad, I dont care about fb. If my friends want to visit, I have a wooden front door, 3 wooden steps. I see nothing of value in this entire realm. I don’t need it. It’s just an out of control monster…people can, people can, PEOPLE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.

    • Zeno

      I agree. It is unfortunate that fb gets them while they are young and stupid. The young never realize that NOTHING in the digital world can be rescinded.

      • Stillin

        Yes, I am blessed that when I was young and stupid, I was out playing in the woods, not stupid, building houses, cooking with grass soup, feedling my stuffed animals, later riding my bike, skateboarding..later hiking..I am from another world, and THANK GOD/JAH for that. I am soooooooooooooooo thankful.

        • CondalisaExxon

          Here here!

  • Stillin

    Big brother just getting bigger and bigger, the corporations own us, we are like plantation workers. I am soooooooo glad, I dont care about fb. If my friends want to visit, I have a wooden front door, 3 wooden steps. I see nothing of value in this entire realm. I don’t need it. It’s just an out of control monster…people can, people can, PEOPLE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.

  • Eric

    Tom: Stop referring to Esther Dyson or any other woman as a “Chairman”, when she is a “Chairwoman.” This is really insensitive and disrespectful. It is willfully ignorant, and I can hardly believe that your website even has this ugly language posted above.

    • at

      Well language is a strange thing at one time both men and women were called men, then it changed. I am not talking about recent conventions here I am talking about the English language. The word woman did not exist. So really the offense you take is so conditional. I doubt if there is an ugly neuron in Tom that he would express in public, because we all have some ugly neural constellations don’t we.

  • Trcf

    People forget that their ancestors, and some of us ourselves, moved to cities in large part to get away from the constant prying of the small town’s eyes and ears and virulent gossip.

  • Anonymous

    As much as I despise the invasion of privacy, I do have to wonder how much the Internet and its many services would cost if these companies were barred from tracking us.

    Greg Camp
    Springdale, AR

    • Gat27

      Interesting question Greg. It wouldn’t stop advertising just the trafficking in personal info. So — maybe not all that much.

  • Braglington

    Must be a distinction between not having privacy vs being spied on.
    Meaning, if you walk down the street, you don’t expect to have much privacy regarding what you are doing, who you talk to, etc…
    But while sitting in your own home, you don’t expect that someone is peering through the windows, writing down everything you do.
    The latter seems more analogous to what is happening online.

  • Kristina

    The presumption of privacy is only a thing of the past because we the people have allowed businesses to slowly erode it away. Once again, this is just an issue of businesses run amok due to lack of regulation. From, the beginning, businesses should have had to pay US for access to our personal data, not the other away around.

  • Adam

    I’m so paranoid about facebook selling my personal information to others that I’ve removed all of my personal information except for my full name: my birthday, my religious affiliation, my political affiliation, etc. I do this because facebook is too invasive, and because of the risk of hackers computing my social security number. Apparently, with just your birthplace and birthday, hackers can probably computer the first five numbers of your social security number which correspond to the area and group numbers. See: http://www.policysoft.com/index.php/news/34-social-media-is-the-cornerstone-of-id-theft.html. The last four digits are typically obtained using a massive bot-net attack which seeks to have infected computers apply for new credit cards. It’s pretty scary for the average internet user out there. I want to recommend some safe courses of action for avoiding the dissemination of private information. First of all, reformat your computer at least once every year. Spyware and infected cookies will invariably infect your computer no matter what you do. The best way to combat this is to do a clean install of windows every now and then. Second of all, change your passwords at least once every month, as well as avoid using the same passwords on every website. Third of all, avoid giving lots of information to social networking sites. As an addendum to this recommendation, never give into marketing gimmicks like product reviews, like buttons, or any other sort of scheme that involves you consistently presenting your opinion on something. These schemes are sneaky ways to collect information on your preferences which are then sold to advertising firms, etc. Fourth of all, never open emails from people you don’t know. If the email is so important, they’ll either call you back or send another email. Last of all, never give away your personal information to anybody unless you are required to do so by law.

    • JF766

      Adam, excellent advice – tough to follow but very very true. Thanks for the post, I am sending a copy to all of my friends!

  • http://profiles.google.com/hutch1377 Mark Hutchinson

    people are so entitled these days. I am a huge individual rights/privacy advocacy, by the way; BUT – “there is no such thing as free lunch” i was told once. people want all the new gadgets and privileges of technology, without paying for it. You want FB; and all the cool things with it like “Tagging Location” and connection to “friends” and “Pages: of things to follow; you want G-Mail, FREE email and document holding and free blog follower, etc – but you don’t want to pay a cost.

    You are bartering your spending habits, you personal information. How do you think these companies make billions and get to do cooler things for you to enjoy? if you want privacy, stop posting yourself on the “WORLDWIDE WEB”. you want private email, expect to pay money. actual money and not advertising credit.

    you have allowed the corporations to control our food and government. why expect something different today?

    stay off line if you want privacy.

    • Vickels

      You can’t stay offline if you want to get a job, if you want to apply to school somewhere, if you want to know what’s going on, if you need to deal with sooo many corporations who do not even support live phone service anymore…forget it! There’s no way to stay offline unless you hide out in the woods!

      • Vickels

        …which has crossed my mind….

  • AllieGism

    What a great discussion! I am so glad someone is publically talking about privacy in today’s social tendencies. Cheers!

  • g, Buffalo, NY

    More transparency from the companies side.
    People need to know, the minute they enter their info online, it’s no longer private – it’s public. Forever.

    I wish there was a way to clean it up and remove all that info about oneself. I’d pay for it.

    • at

      Really, aren’t you the person who threatened another poster the other day by revealing some of what you thought was their personal data? You are the problem.

      • g, Buffalo, NY

        Yes I did. I threatened a person because of my superficial knee-jerk reaction to what he wrote, on several occasions. But I am scum and really a hypocrite who doesn’t understand what is important in life and I cannot blame him if he never forgives me and punches my lights out when we next meet

      • PussyComitatus

        Good spot there “at”, it was in the slings and arrows of being Super Wealthy show a few days ago. but the post has been deleted, as was the absolutely corrosive post that someone else (was it you?) made in response to his bullying. Isn’t it just perfect? “g,” couldn’t win an argument with with Jake or Jerry (some poster starting with J) so he starts berating Jake for being retied on SS and the Medicare program. Calling him irresponsible and selfish for having retired poor. lol. It was a new low for interactions here. I thought he must know Jake, but Jake says “Hey I’m not retired you must have looked at the wrong ip, or something when you were investigating me on line.


        So here is a (guy?) who makes these near hysterical accusations; saying that J is calling for the deaths of the super wealthy, which he didn’t do at all. Telling him his mother and father would be ashamed of him, and acting like he has all this info that he can divulge about him. (Too bad the post “g,” made has been deleted.) So here is the same guy/gal/other now decrying the fact that online info is not private, when they had just a few days before somehow (apparently) hacked Jake to get his ss number and investigated him (and his parents?) online for the purpose of intimidating him into silence — for being a heartless poor person who had his foot on the necks of people of integrity like himself. ;)

        I myself would not be surprised if “g, from Buffalo” was one of these guys/gals/other who is selling a service to clean up peoples info. His mode of operation evidences all the hypocrisy and underhanded self-righteousness that typifies the dealings of the power-elite with we lowly humans, but on a microcosmic scale. Meaningless accusations, misquotes, lies, red herrings, implicit threats, and the use of private information to manipulate and quell resistance.

        What a laugh. I was thinking, “Let the games begin, and may the most elegant symmetry win. Well the games never began, due to a timely deletion by OnPoint, but the symmetry of “g,”‘s evil actions came back like an ill-trained attack dog to bite him on the ass when “at” pointed out his mischief.

        Poetic bros, truly poetic.

  • http://reputation.com/blog Rob_ReputationDotCom

    Personal data privacy is a huge issue, and we’re excited that Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik is a guest on this morning’s program to talk about it with other experts.

    I would encourage On Point listeners to check out this video from Reputation.com, which cleverly illustrates the legitimate harm that comes from the commoditization and sale of our personal data.

    Invasion of the Data Snatchers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceGdmZ_LLfg

    Rob Frappier
    Community Manager

    • Anonymous

      Shouldn’t your advertisements be limited to underwriting NPR and not posting comments?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320887009 Charli Henley

    Anonymity on the internet seems so 90′s. Privacy’s looking pretty old fashioned too.

    • Braglington

      For me, it is not a matter of fashion, decade, or how it looks.

    • Evemh20

      Wake up and smell the coffee, honey. You will NEVER get back what you lose, and your descendants will wonder why you did not put up a fight.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320887009 Charli Henley

        I’m not concerned with what I’m “losing” because I don’t feel like I ever “had” something to begin with. Everyone knows everything about everyone – it’s an assumption I’ve had since I was young. I suggest you stop using your computer if that freaks you out.

        • ar

          You have simply surrendered, and the obvious thing is that you don’t even realize the significance of what you surrendered. Wait until you express an opinion somewhere that someone really doesn’t like and find out that they have created years of hardship for you by screwing with your data, or broadcasting where you live and personal data to the world. You are like IBM and the data miners are like Bill Gates. It may seem a small matter now, but when you figure out how important it can be it will be too late. On the other hand there may be nothing about you that requires privacy. I would call that a personal tragedy, or what your gen calls “blending”.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320887009 Charli Henley

            Where’s the integrity in hiding?

          • at

            It is sort of hard to believe that you really asked that question. Many people believe that there is no such thing as a silly question and that no question is wrong. However this is not the case. Many questions are wrong and as such have no proper response. What color is the elephant in this room, pink or yellow? Your question also establishes a similar illusory premise. I could go on at some length about this but to cut things short, lets just say that integrity and hiding may or may not be related in any particular case or scenario that could be considered. A similar question could have been put to a German Jew in 1937, by a friend. Or to an East German German in 1967 by another. Not only is your reification of an action that is, in and of itself, neither negative or otherwise, and at the very most whose qualities are entirely dependent on a variety of conditions of both ones position and perspective, into an abstract quality, which you imply is universally negative, but the actual abstract quality you refer to is entirely relative to subjective conditions of the mind who has rendered such a judgement. And as such, your question is wrong.

          • SillyJizzim, Frogtown, GA

            The minutemen hid behind trees and stonewalls and shot at British troops. Where was there integrity? They should have lined up with integrity and died and lost the war, because maintaining the integrity of ones illusory conceptions is whats important in life.

  • at

    Here’s something funny. The gym were I work-out converted from a membership card to fingerprint readers. I think I am the only person at the club who refused to be part of the new system, so every time I go in now someone has to type my ID into their system. What’s funny? Well one finger print may be worthless, but a database of tens of thousands of fingerprints is not worthless. One of the staff once asked me why I wouldn’t participate. I explained to them that someone with access to their system and a six hundred dollar printer (probably less now) would be able to print out those prints directly onto latex membranes or some other substrate, and leave them anywhere they wanted to. They thought I was crazy.

  • Zeno

    Sharing private medical information. Wonder why you can’t get that job…ask what information true or false was sold to your potential employer.

  • Anonymous

    Individuals should have to opt in to having their personal data used by corporations. Why should all of us lose privacy or have to actively work to protect it because some people want the choice to share information? The government has more power to protect us through regulation than individuals have through making choices where the bargaining power is unequal.

  • Miro

    We worry about blackmail.

    How big a problem is this?
    We imagine that 99% of it is never reported.

  • ThresherK

    It used to be that n00bs needed a perspicacious 8-year-old to hook up various players and game systems to the TV in the family room, or any piece to a desktop computer.

    Now what society needs is some oddball hybrid of that and a pre-law student who can translate EULAs into real English before Grandma Millie clicks to accept an app to their smartphone, or a “toolbar” to a dial-up computer.

    And am I the only one who thinks Facebook’s privacy settings are akin to those fake thermostats in some office buildings which make people think they’re changing the temperature?

  • betty

    I am 63 years old and retired. My daughter is 23 years old and an internet addict. I have’t experienced any downside to having my information shared with the world, but then I am retired, don’t have much to hide, and don’t really care if anyone knows my rather dull tastes, medical history, travel. My daughter on the other hand freely shares her information, freely mines the internet for information, and has no problem with the violation of her privacy. Her generation seems to accept the new lack of privacy with amusement. Has anyone documented a generational difference in attitude about this issue?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDH4GYJMIUFU373W3XUQVD2V4E Patrick

    This guy’s line is horrible

  • Ethan

    what about Tor? Should everyone be using this?

  • Zeno

    This guy is selling a “protection racket”. You want to do business in this neighborhood, then you’re gonna have to pay.

  • Miro

    There is also the spectre of widespread political surveillance, not only by government but by private entities as well.

    I worry about well-financed right wing internet trawling companies compiling political dossiers on people and using these to discriminate in hiring and contracts. This could already be happening.

  • David in Wellesley, Mass.

    We have met Big Brother, and he is us.

    • Goanpuke

      er, rather, “they is us”

  • David in Wellesley, Mass.

    P.S.: But telephone sound is bad, and getting worse.

  • Pissed off consumer

    I find it frightening that I can google my own name and so many “informantion gathering” websites come up with what looks like accurate information. For instance, I am estranged from an abusive/drug addicted family and I do not want any John Doe to know who my siblings are and where they live. The process to remove information from one of these sites is ridiculous – send in a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove that you are really you and then maybe after 90 days they will remove the information – or maybe not. They warn that the information may reappear anyway!

    I am one who resents being constantly tracked. Where I go on the web is my business and should not belong to or be sold by websites like Google and Facebook.

  • Dukegreg

    ever since the day my employer plopped down a computer with web access in front of me in 1995, I entered an odd assortment of different details to describe my ‘profile’ on commercial web pages. To this day I celebrate my decision to make my identity a ‘calico cat’. I rarely get spam and my phone never rings with marketing calls.

  • Dania

    It is NOT legal to open someone’s letters send by regular USPS, it is NOT legal to listen to someone’s phone conversations so why is is OK to spy on our emails?????

  • JF766

    Ever since we were victims of indentity theft (credit rating agencies sold our info to syndicated crime ring, round 1; Bank of America allowed our accounts to be hacked repeatedly, probably by an insider, round 2..) the real loss when your privacy is gone is TRUST. And it is really tough to get back. All Ester Dyson had to say was, “We” when referring to 23 and me and I didn’t believe her anymore.

  • ngm

    Just wanted to recommend “The Transparent Society” by David Brin. The first chapter is available here: http://www.davidbrin.com/ts1.htm

    It’s a thought provoking look at the illusion of privacy (those who want to know will find a way and it’s only getting easier) and how a more open (transparent) approach might be better than living in that illusion.

  • Evemh2o

    How DARE Esther Dyson talk about the ability for us to keep our information private simply by diversifying? What a disingenuous, indeed, mendacious, statement; she should be called out on this. Marketers WANT us to bundle all our business with them, and they offer incentives for it.

    We have always assumed, and until recently, reasonably so, that our information was private, and it belonged to us, not to those who require it in order to transact business. I pay money to my bank to transact my business with them, I pay money to my cable company to transact business with them, I have a Netflix account, all of these and more, should have NO RIGHT, NONE, NADA, ZIP, to “use” my data for their benefit. And that BS about how they can offer us only products we really need, pardon me whilst I puke up my Quaker Oats.

    I am a career market researcher who has been on the horns of this dilemma since database marketing first gained purchase. It REALLY bothers me, and I do everything I can to avoid anyone or any company having a “fix” on me.

    • jf776

      But this began long before the internet – that is how credit rating agencies make their money!! They sell your private financial information. Oh sure, they also provide a useful service, but we have all had our financial privacy destroyed long ago. Oh yeah, the government will tell you how the agencies can’t sell the info to just anyone – but I am here to tell they can, and they do. Until recently there was nothing you could do about it. Now you can freeze your credit rating accounts so the agencies cannot make money off of you (they make this quite difficult to do). The internet has certainly made it worse, though.

      • Evemh20

        Thanks for replying to my posting. You started your comment with the word “but” so I braced myself for a rebuttal, but (!) in fact you are reinforcing what I said, by indicating that one CAN, maybe, possibly, push back a little, if one goes through extra steps. And why should I? I don’t recall ever authorizing anyone to “use” my information. I don’t recall being paid for that.

        If we don’t fight this thing tooth and nail now, our descendants will suffer and they will ask, why didn’t we, this generation, DO something about it?!

  • Yes

    This was an interesting show. Firstly I have to say I took issue with Ms. Dyson’s comments re: her idea of privacy and how privacy is something of a “new” concept. I wholeheartedly disagree. At the start of the show she tried to draw a correlation between the uber-wealthy of perhaps 16th century England, or that of peasants living under physically tight conditions, and today’s world. Please…these are ridiculous comparisons. Just because you shared a space with someone doesn’t mean they had access to your personal accounts…I can assure you that the Queen of England didn’t allow her handmaidens to rifle through the country’s ledger book…nor did people who lived together always share secrets.

    But regardless…none of this matters when we’re talking about today – because in today’s world – strangers (not handmaidens, butlers, friends or even neighbors) – absolute STRANGERS, have access to this information. So even if one WERE to agree with Ms. Dyson’s assumptions that privacy is a new term, we can clearly see the dissimilarity between what was and what is…for what IS, is a world where people we don’t know, people we never met and will NEVER meet, can, and perhaps are, rifling through our ledgers…our most personal documents…our most valued, private, information.

    Privacy is not a new concept. Privacy is a basic tenant of humanity. It’s not something “new”. But privacy is being threatened by today’s society.

    And I don’t think the consumer should have to purchase privacy. I don’t believe that, because I bought something from you, you have the right to save my personal information and distribute it to marketers. That was not part of the deal. You took my money. I paid you for your product. THAT, was the deal. That was the exchange. My personal information? You can’t have that. Not without my say so.

    But unfortunately, this isn’t the case anymore. We, as consumers, are being forced, to make a choice. You want the product? It’s gonna cost you…and more than your money. It’s gonna cost you your history, your files, your health information, your shopping habits, your travel destinations, your taste in clothing, food, sexual preferences… And it’s insidious. Because most of us don’t even know it’s happening.

    Ms. Dyson’s solution? Just abstain from buying the product. Fine. Easily enough said. But you know what? That depends on two factors A) It depends on the fact that we even KNOW what we’re sacrificing when we buy a product…it assumes we KNOW we’re giving up our information IN ADDITION to our dollars and B) It assumes we can go without the product.

    Now what if we NEEDED the product? What if it was a necessity? Should it be, that we as consumers, must choose one way or the other? Why must we placed in such a position??? Isn’t the fact that we’re giving the company our money enough? Now they want our very lives too?

    Come on.

    This is unfair. The consumer is being forced between a rock and a hard-place and most of us don’t even know what’s happening.

    There has to be legislation to stop this.

    And I wouldn’t rely on companies to regulate themselves either…after all, they got us into this mess in the first place.

  • TryCommonSense

    How is this any different than the “Protection” rackets run by the Mob??? They steal from you and then offer to sell you protection from thieves????

  • geoff

    if i make an agreement with netflix, i don’t want my data to be shared with 3rd parties. i think it is criminal for netflix to share with 3rd parties without my consent.

    geoff in indy

  • Anonymous

    One of the more fruitful general approaches to defining (and achieving) privacy in the digital age is to try to replicate the privacy that existed in the non-digital world.

    Privacy was simple: You can see the people who you volunteer information to (and can decide if you want to share or not). While these people could go and claim to others that they obtained this information from you, you posses the strong notion of DENIABILITY. This means that others cannot prove that you were the source of the information. This is a concept that is rarely heard in these discussions, while it lies at the heart of natural societal privacy.

    A Massachusetts-born (from MIT) project Tonika (http://5ttt.org) is attempting to achieve exactly this.

    In some deep and concrete mathematical ways, it is known that not much beyond this can in fact be achieved in nature. So this goal should be given weight in public discussions.

  • Max Entropy

    I am in the professional job market and keep encountering employers’ Web sites that demand considerable personal data entry in addition to uploading a resume and cover letter. To apply for a job at more than a few companies’ Web site, applicants step through browser forms presented by a wizard and enter a lot of information, acting as unpaid data entry clerks. At the end, an agreement is presented to take or leave, authorizing the company to dig into applicants’ personal history. All this takes place before any interview, much less a job offer. In almost all cases, the application then enters a black administrative hole with only a robotic email acknowledgment that an application was received.

    Below is an example of an application agreement to which I was asked to assent when I applied for a technical writing position at InhumanResources (not its real name), a large HR resources firm that describes itself thusly:

    > InhumanResources provides business solutions for human resources. We help global organizations multiply business success by identifying the best individuals for every job and fostering optimal work environments for every organization. For more than 20 years, InhumanResources has studied human behavior and team dynamics in the workplace, and has developed the software solutions, business processes and expert consulting that help organizations impact positive business outcomes through HR. InhumanResources is the only company that offers a comprehensive suite of unified products and services that support the entire employee lifecycle from pre-hire to exit.

    At the final stage of application, the wizard presented this text, and asked me to electronically assent to what it stipulates:

    > authorization: By selecting ‘I agree’ I hereby certify that the statements made on this application and any supplements are true, complete and correct and hereby grant InhumanResources permission to verify such answers (including social security number) and investigate work, education and personal references and histories and conduct drug tests, motor vehicle, credit and criminal history checks.

    > I understand that any false statement or omission on this application or in any interview may be considered sufficient cause for rejection of this application or for dismissal if such false information or omission is discovered subsequent to my employment. I also understand that my salary, wages, benefits and other terms or conditions of employment are subject to change by InhumanResources and, if hired, I will be notified of these changes. I also understand that InhumanResources has established a smoke-free environment and smoking is permitted only in the designated outside area.

    > I authorize and release from liability all employers, schools, agencies or persons to give any information regarding my previous employment, character, work habits, education, general reputation, criminal record, credit history, driving record and personal characteristics, together with any information that they have regarding me, whether or not it is in their records. I understand that no representation, whether oral or written, by any representative, agent or supervisor of InhumanResources can constitute a contract of employment of any kind. I further understand that my employment with InhumanResources may be terminated, with or without cause and with or without notice, at any time, at the option of either InhumanResources or me. In addition, if accepted for employment, I hereby agree to abide by the rules and regulations of InhumanResources and accept the established pay period of InhumanResources.

    I could never agree to all of this, so I backed up and deleted the documents I had uploaded and erased some of the form data, but I’m sure it’s all still in their system. But first I copied the text, because I found it so appallingly intrusive.

    Recall that before showing me this, I had to enter my SSN, work history, education, references, skills, and other information, most of which my resume contained. I simply could not give the company carte blanche to access to any data about me they might like to know without a single human contact (or even the promise of one). What galls me even more is that InhumanResources was probably using its own software to solicit my application, an application suite they sell in the HR marketplace. Thus the disease that kills privacy will vector around the world.

    Am I being naive to be indignant about this? Do companies have every right to snoop through any and all aspects my life history? What can they do with my data, entered on my own keyboard with my own hands about my own life?

  • Jschaefer

    What I didn’t see in these comments nor heard on the show was the concept of “Opt IN.” In the US, the default for handling any collected data is OPT IN, meaning that the provider of the information, you, is agreeing to share their data.

    There are a few states, I believe VT and OR are among them, that protect their citizens with a law that makes “OPT OUT” the default which means your data cannot be shared without your permission; i.e., if you say nothing, your data must be protected and not shared. I am not sure if this also prevents the business from adding you to their own data base for future advertising, etc. What we see most of time is a notice, in 6 or 4 point font, from a company (insurance, credit, book club…) telling us that we can opt out by mailing in a form with check boxes that describes what type of information can be shared, if at all, and with whom.

    The default in Germany is opt out, and the data collected from a credit or debit transaction must be deleted by a business when the transaction has cleared. The business owner can be subject to criminal charges for keeping the information in their own data base or for selling it to others.

    It will be a long time before businesses in this country accept opt out as the prevailing default. There’s just too money to be made from selling our data, or said another way, the commercial pimps are whoring our data and were never getting our cut.

    PS What do YOU do with my email that I’m required to provide as the cost for making a comment?!

    • evemh2o

      Do you think I am giving my real email address? (wink…) Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not … who really knows? Mess with their heads! Fight back, baby!

  • Max Entropy (not my real name)

    Let me gloss my recent comment. The gamut of personal data that InhumanResources says they are entitled to divine seems to be legal in general. However, some of this data is only pertinent to only a few occupations. Drug tests may matter for truck drivers. Criminal convictions may matters for child caregivers. Credit checks might or might not be germane, depending on employee duties. I learned this and other interesting facts from reading http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs16-bck.htm. I still don’t know why any company needs to know my social security number unless it is committed to hiring me.

  • Max Entropy (not my real name)

    Why does Esther Dyson, who should know better, think that ordinary people have any hope in negotiating the terms of personal privacy with corporations, who can find ways to suck up and secrete whatever information they can find about individuals? Does she truly expect Congress to expand our privacy rights? Does she believe that corporations will play by the rules, whatever they are?

    This is a real and pressing problem, and most of the pundits I’ve heard have punted, saying “get used to having no privacy or having to pay to get it.” Why should we put up with this crass and invasive opportunism that increasingly stifles our opportunities to work and express ourselves?

    Esther should switch sides and stop promoting a privacy marketplace. Having to safeguard personal information is just one more bother foisted on people at their own expense. Nobody I know asked for that, but that’s the deal she says we should accept. I feel violated, and she and her visionary corporatist ideas are partly to blame.

  • Pingback: Douglas R. Beam Legal News and Blawg - Paying For Privacy

  • Pingback: Pandora gets sued, Facebook Upgrades (again), and Twitter makes some gas money « sociallyawkwardmedia

  • Lanceclot2

    I once join a fitness club, for which a 2 to 3 page legal-size page application required my Bdate & SS#, employer, office#,etc. Nobody from my home-town knew where I was, because I hadn’t told anyone that I moved from east to west coast (2wks had lapsed). I didn’t even memorize my new office #. Shortly after joining this club, 24-hour Fitness, I received a call from a stockbroker, who knew my name. Shocked! I asked how did stockbroker came to know my office Phone#, since I didn’t even memorize it (& nobody knew where i lived). Bought info. from Marketers he claimed. I didn’t give permission to 24-hour fitness, nor was I informed that my private info would be sold (I read the fine print).
    The Person who handled my enrollment, adamantly insisted 24 hour fitness would never do that. He too was shocked! However, when I checked their website (I was a walk-in), there on their webpages was the claim their right to the option of selling the info. That claim was never in my application. I’ve never felt so violated, because I always made a concerted effort to protect my privacy (hence this bi-coastal move w/out notifying anyone). This was a blatant invasion of my right to privacy. I wanted to file a class action suit, but made the mistake of not getting the stock-broker’s firm. The short of it, is that there are companies who will take personal info, even when they don’t have the legal right. That is why it is one of the cherished liberties of the constitution!

  • Pingback: Privacy Lives » Blog Archive » NPR/WBUR: The high cost of keeping your personal information personal.

  • Jasmine C.

      Have you ever noticed that stores are always trying to get info on you whether it is by wanting to sign you up for a store card, credit card, or by asking you for your zip code. I have heard that baggers will follow patrons out to their cars to get their license plates at times, with the pretense of rounding up carts. If a store thinks that a patron’s shopping includes spending too long a time looking at products(even though the patron might just be looking at labels or comparing costs between products) or looking at employees (even though the patron might look at them because he’s a friendly person or just be looking in their general direction  while worrying about something unrelated to shopping, the patron can be considered a potential shop lifter and their personal information can be passed on or obtained per links on the store computer system. A patron’s reputation can be ruined without their knowledge even though they have never been stopped in a store for any reason. Scary Huh!

Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 27, 2014
The cast of the new ABC comedy, "Black-ish." (Courtesy ABC)

This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

Aug 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, looks at them, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

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