Home > data science, rant > Where’s the outrage over private snooping?

Where’s the outrage over private snooping?

June 11, 2013

There’s been a tremendous amount of hubbub recently surrounding the data collection data mining that the NSA has been discovered to be doing.

For me what’s weird is that so many people are up in arms about what our government knows about us but not, seemingly, about what private companies know about us.

I’m not suggesting that we should be sanguine about the NSA program – it’s outrageous, and it’s outrageous that we didn’t know about it. I’m glad it’s come out into the open and I’m glad it’s spawned an immediate and public debate about the citizen’s rights to privacy. I just wish that debate extended to privacy in general, and not just the right to be anonymous with respect to the government.

What gets to me are the countless articles that make a big deal of Facebook or Google sharing private information directly with the government, while never mentioning that Acxiom buys and sells from Facebook on a daily basis much more specific and potentially damning information about people (most people in this country) than the metadata that the government purports to have.

Of course, we really don’t have any idea what the government has or doesn’t have. Let’s assume they are also an Acxiom customer, for that matter, which stands to reason.

It begs the question, at least to me, of why we distrust the government with our private data but we trust private companies with our private data. I have a few theories, tell me if you agree.

Theory 1: people think about worst case scenarios, not probabilities

When the government is spying on you, worst case you get thrown into jail or Guantanamo Bay for no good reason, left to rot. That’s horrific but not, for the average person, very likely (although, of course, a world where that does become likely is exactly what we want to prevent by having some concept of privacy).

When private companies are spying on you, they don’t have the power to put you in jail. They do increasingly have the power, however, to deny you a job, a student loan, a mortgage, and life insurance. And, depending on who you are, those things are actually pretty likely.

Theory 2: people think private companies are only after our money

Private companies who hold our private data are only profit-seeking, so the worst thing they can do is try to get us to buy something, right? I don’t think so, as I pointed out above. But maybe people think so in general, and that’s why we’re not outraged about how our personal data and profiles are used all the time on the web.

Theory 3: people are more afraid of our rights being taken away than good things not happening to them

As my friend Suresh pointed out to me when I discussed this with him, people hold on to what they have (constitutional rights) and they fear those things being taken away (by the government). They spend less time worrying about what they don’t have (a house) and how they might be prevented from getting it (by having a bad e-score).

So even though private snooping can (and increasingly does) close all sorts of options for peoples’ lives, if they don’t think about them, they don’t notice. It’s hard to know why you get denied a job, especially if you’ve been getting worse and worse credit card terms and conditions over the years. In general it’s hard to notice when things don’t happen.

Theory 4: people think the government protects them from bad things, but who’s going to protect them from the government?

This I totally get, but the fact is the U.S. government isn’t protecting us from data collectors, and has even recently gotten together with Facebook and Google to prevent the European Union from enacting pretty good privacy laws. Let’s not hold our breath for them to understand what’s at stake here.

(Updated) Theory 5: people think they can opt out of private snooping but can’t opt out of being a citizen

Two things. First, can you really opt out? You can clear your cookies and not be on gmail and not go on Facebook and Acxiom will still track you. Believe it.

Second, I’m actually not worried about you (you reader of mathbabe) or myself for that matter. I’m not getting denied a mortgage any time soon. It’s the people who don’t know to protect themselves, don’t know to opt out, that I’m worried about and who will get down-scored and funneled into bad options that I worry about.

Theory 5 6: people just haven’t thought about it enough to get pissed

This is the one I’m hoping for.

I’d love to see this conversation expand to include privacy in general. What’s so bad about asking for data about ourselves to be automatically forgotten, say by Verizon, if we’ve paid our bills and 6 months have gone by? What’s so bad about asking for any personal information about us to have a similar time limit? I for one do not wish mistakes my children make when they’re impetuous teenagers to haunt them when they’re trying to start a family.

Categories: data science, rant
  1. mb
    June 11, 2013 at 7:06 am

    This is quite possibly the dumbest post you have written. Google and Facebook state up front what they will do, if people do not like it, find another service. The government programs are secret (we still do not know the full extent) and you have no way to opt out. The government also has the added feature of guns, jails and the ability to KILL you. If you think the two are equivalent, you are a moron.


    • June 11, 2013 at 7:39 am

      Well, mb, you don’t get any points for politeness. But I’ll address your point anyway: they say what they’ll do but they don’t say what other people will do with the data they sell.

      I’m gonna go ahead and put you in the “worst case scenario” theory camp.


      • Jessica
        June 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        I think you have asked a good question. The reaction of the first poster above is an interesting data point pointing to just how much many people differentiate between corporations and the government.
        I am not sure if it quite fits into your categories, but when it comes to corporations, many people do seem to have a sense that “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you”.
        But it mystifies me the degree to which many people can continue to see threats from government and corporations as fundamentally different, even in the face of quite visible collusion and interpenetration between the two.
        So my answer has to be “All of the above and something else too. A lot of something else.”
        My suspicion is that that “something else” is not the area of logical thinking but of belief systems. In particular, the American belief in “the right to make a living”, which goes back to the Protestant Reformation and was at the time a big step forward. In those days, it was a replacement for “only aristocrats count, everyone is just a stage prop for some aristocrat”.
        In turn, if this does have roots going back 4-5 centuries, then it is probably also tapping into behavioral patterns that were evolutionarily useful during the decimillennia on the east African savannah. Although those patterns are not necessarily so helpful right now.


  2. June 11, 2013 at 7:51 am

    On the contrary, I love this post… great general analysis of the situation… the one thing I’d add that scares me MOST though is not the Gov’t. snooping on me or the citizenry, but the fact that they can snoop on any politician/leader and use that info for partisan purposes, completely undermining democracy.
    As far as Google, Facebook etc. ‘stating up front what they will do,’ give me a break!… that would only be true if people actually read pages of fine print and legalistic gibberish which is open to interpretation IF you are so anal-compulsive to read it. Facebook has to be one of the least up front companies in existence. And most of the companies tracking us are barely even known by name, and have little accountability.


  3. June 11, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Actually, mb, Facebook and Google don’t tell you half of what they do with your data. More importantly, they are not telling you what they intend to do with your data in the future because they don’t know yet what technology will enable them to do with it in 2, 5 or 10 years down the road. They’re stockpiling as much data as they can (more than they actually need) now so that they can exploit it later once they’ve developed the necessary capabilities.

    If you think the data they collect on you is trivial, think again. Each data point (even if non personally identifiable data points) you leave behind via your mobile phone, web browser, etc. can be collected and assembled to provide a pretty frighteningly accurate of your life and that of others close to you. Today they’re serving targeted ads but ultimately the goal is to predict and eventually even direct consumer behavior by closely studying your habits.

    Mathbabe, your post is bang on. I too sit and wonder where the outrage is. Nice to know I’m not alone.


  4. Josh
    June 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

    There has been a 40-year campaign to demonize government and glorify the private sector. That may have something to do with it.


    • June 11, 2013 at 10:40 am


      But I would add that we have lost sight of the very intimate connections that have formed between government and industry, largely as a result of the Cold War. We are living the nightmare of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex”, which is further cemented by the inequality in wealth that enables a few to control the agenda (at least broadly) of the government.


    • June 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Good point. I agree. I think both (gov’t and private sector) have overreached.


      • josh
        June 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

        Agreed. And the distinction between government and big business as a whole is increasingly blurry.


  5. An igyt
    June 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I, for one, am partly described by Theory 2. It worries me not at all that a bank might choose to deny me a mortgage, unless the data they have gathered indicates I am a bad credit risk; or choose not to hire me, unless the data indicates I will be an unproductive employee… The simplicity of their motivation makes dealing with them more like a dealing with a force of nature than with people who have power over me.

    But you miss the really big one: my relationship with those private firms is entirely voluntary. Choosing to live without Google, or to use it only under an assumed name from internet cafes, is so much milder an inconvenience than renouncing my citizenship and living without property as to be a qualitatively different matter. Enough so that I feel the government compels me into our relationship, while Google certainly does not. And so keeping the government limited matters a lot more.


    • June 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Thanks for reminding me of this point, I’ll add it to the post, because I think it’s a false narrative as well.



  6. Marcos
    June 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

    A mix of 2 and 5.
    This was also discussed on the latest EconTalk podcast with Bruce Schneier.
    There it was pointed out that for most people privacy is not high on the list of things to worry about on a daily basis, and that opinions against this encroachment are diffuse; but big companies have dedicated staff to make sure that laws allow them to conduct their business without the expected restraints.


  7. June 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

    6. People will do anything / give up anything to save a buck (or think they will) at least in the USA. If you look at some European countries where wage erosion is not as severe as the US they still have strong privacy laws and still care about personal privacy.


  8. Kimber
    June 11, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I applaud MB for bringing this up. Data is/will be the biggest money maker in the next ten years. You and I won’t be able to make a dime off of it, but many others sure will. If you don’t think this affects you, try operating in a below 640 FICA score environment. Try correcting a stolen identity. As far as the “free market” is concerned, is that the free market in which I have a choice of cable companies or which railroad I can bring my corn to market on? Our “choices” are beginning to feel like a curving Temple Grandin slaughter corral; where is this convenient, yet narrowing path of choices leading me?


    • beewhy2012
      June 13, 2013 at 9:40 am

      I happened to work with a youthful startup in the late 90s whose goal was to turn a profit by helping community groups (like schools, sports groups) band together and raise money for their worthy causes via the brave new world of click-throughs and internet shopping. Very early on it became clear to me that anonymity was not to be an option for the unsuspecting organizations and their members who signed up. Data mining was what we hoped would really pay off then even though we weren’t really sure how to use it. If our clients were oblivious to that, what damage was really being done? Our hope was to extract gold from the tons of digital ore we were going to collect. Mark Zuckerberg was scarcely out of Junior High and Google was but a babe.
      Temple Grandin ramps were being built all over the web. The public were the unwitting and eager herd moving toward an enticing, but vague and inchoate, future. It was not at all like the one we find ourselves in today. The confluence of security and business had not been established even though the seeds of it were already sprouting. Rational choice based on full disclosure was not part of the picture. Today the mania for apps for everything is but a small, albeit thriving, descendent of that drug that the consuming public uncritically ingested back then.


  9. June 11, 2013 at 9:39 am

    I think you could answer your question by reviewing many of your previous posts that ask the same thing, “How come people don’t see what’s really happening, even though we have the data that shows it?”

    I think the answer to all these similar questions is the same: people think in (self-interest-driven) stories and not data. Data is only used (these days) to rationalize stories that further an internal narrative. It doesn’t matter what the data says if it contradicts a story I want/need to believe, I won’t pay attention to it. Sort of confirmation bias, which is easily and profitably manipulated by commercial interests.

    You want to be safe from ever-lurking terrorists? Do you want a bigger house or to spend more money than you make so people will like you more? Do you want to have your last sense of dignity and control in a world where you are increasingly powerless taken away by gun control laws? Do you want to live in a socialist society like the USSR with Obamacare?

    Don’t bother with real statistics. People are just living by stories that the media, backed completely by commercial spin, fit into their own self image. The spinners have won, not society. Your previous post explain that.

    Pretty much every big thing that business or government has done in the last 20 years has basically been sociopathic in that it has enriched a few at the expense of the many. Drug, agriculture, energy, environment, finance, community infrastructure, poverty, foreign policy…name one gov’t initiative that actually lived up to a promised story of social benefit. The data is there and the results are obvious. So obviously, data has nothing to do with it.


  10. David18
    June 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

    “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”
    ― Thomas Jefferson


  11. Steve Stein
    June 11, 2013 at 10:25 am

    #5. But mb was onto something, so I’ll say #6 (more politely): private companies can’t put you in jail (or worse), so we’re not as scared of them as we are of the government.


    • June 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      I think you’ve got it here… People will go to crazy great lengths to avoid possible negative results, and pissing off the government has some serious negative potential. Most people are afraid to speak up (hence the terms ‘sheeple’ and ‘veal pen’) preferring to go along to get along. Interesting that peeps also easily take small risks for large positive results – the issue hasn’t been framed so that they see this option.


  12. lawrence castiglione
    June 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Re: Theory 5: people just haven’t thought about it enough to get pissed.

    Probably true but also there is this: managing everyday life. An old story from the cold war days is that of a circus lion tamer who, faced with an increasingly restive and aggressive lion, cut an inch off one of the stools on witch the lion sat. Trying to keep his balance distracted him enough to keep him biddable.

    Our lives are occupied with keeping our footing in an unstable society, world, martket etc.


  13. George Cooley
    June 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Do you think politics is a factor? With a democrat in the White House, many liberals don’t want to weaken him politically by making a big stink, and many conservatives actually support these measures.


  14. June 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Spot on…I can’t tell you how many discussion I have with “non tech” folks that have a totally different perception on how this all works and it’s hard to drill it down as to “this is how it is done with math and code” not a crystal ball at all, code runs and executes as designed. I don’t say this in a detrimental fashion at all, just trying to do my best from my tiny angle of the world to educate as the more who understand and want to learn, the better off we are to intelligently go to battle.

    Spot on too with the billions made selling data and I have harped on this for a couple of years with various blog posts and I try as best i can to put the wording to where the layman can get the drift of part of this, and yes, data selling is an epidemic and some toxic as we end up letting good technologies pass by the manufacturing and R and D worlds we need for jobs for the sake of flipping algorithms for money and profits.

    “I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was anticipating Facebook.”..priceless…maybe my little campaign with license and taxing data sellers might get some real attention now and you are right on with the government and private industry..who builds the technologies…private industry and it would be foolish to sell it to the government only if it can make money for the overall bank or company, you think? I am talking selfish money making incentives here that over cross ethics and a lot of other things, but this is real world and what they do. I keep promoting my idea to the FTC, people in Congress and who ever might want to listen and it may not be perfect or have the entire content for a solution, but it is a move in the right direction to take some of the data selling profits and shift a little bit back over to the 99% efforts.

    If you read any of the news of late related to this topic, you can see where SAP is ready to run a new platform on top of what data Verizon is going to sell and is offering to split the profits with them! Thanks for covering e-scoring too, a little dark company that describes itself as something other than a credit agency, but that is what they really do and you have no way of ever seeing what they compile on you. I keep your video and a few others under the Algo Duping” page I have…again just trying to educate on the mechanics for the layman on how some of this occurs behind closed server doors:)

    Great post indeed!


  15. nuttmedia
    June 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Today from the economist – prescient timing:


    This rabbit hole runs deep and affects so many aspects of our lives, our economy, our politics. It is curious how light the coverage is, at least in my eyes, considering the weight of its impact. I’ve seen more today on Tebow signing with the Patriots than a continuing discussion of the privacy implications. To a great extent, what gets whispered into people’s ear by those with influence affects Theory 6 – and the press is a big component of that. Perhaps chicken/egg, and maybe my ear is on the wrong walls or expectations out of proportion, but I wonder why this is soft-pedaled…


  16. June 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I was glad to see MB’s quick (and short) response. About politeness, he or she should have reconsidered the use of terms such as “dumbest post” or “moron,” which only detract from the good argument presented. My own opinion is that elitism in government as well as private business is the problem. Government is the “Capo di tutti capi,” but always vulnerable from below. As for us proles, MB’s quaint advice — “find another service” — is admirable but reminiscent of the “Belling the Cat” fable.


  17. June 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    The point that you seem to miss is the contractual relationship between the parties, and the different legal regimes. “Voluntaryness” and other policy matters are not the point here.

    First consider person A meeting person B and then posting online everything about the interaction. This would be creepy and antisocial, but I think we all agree this should be legal. Facebook is doing the same thing — recording every aspect of my interaction with Facebook and telling others about it. I considered this cost before I decided to create my Facebook account, and I consider it whenever I interact with Facebook. Yes, I use Facebook to interact with my friends, but obviously this interaction is indirect and mediated by Facebook, whose business model is to monetize the hell out of whatever they can learn about me. Moreover, by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service (the contract between us) I have formally agreed to this.

    Now the society as a whole may decide that the voluntary interaction between me and Facebook is bad for me, even if Facebook and me see it otherwise, and prohibit Facebook from doing certain things. I would benefit from such laws, but so far they haven’t been enacted. Thus I assume that Facebook is selling all their information about me, and to the best of my knowledge Facebook hasn’t broken any laws doing so.

    Now consider the situation with the US Federal Government. The “terms of service” for that Government are written in the Constitution, and include an express limitation on the Government collecting data on the citizens. Thus the outrage here is not the policy issue that you seem to focus on (data collection is bad), but the government overstepping its bounds. The main enforcement method of the Constitution is that public officials respect their oaths of office and follow it willingly. The formal enforcement procedures (the presidential veto, judicial review, Congressional oversight) are much less effective, especially when the executive plays the “national security” trump card in order to evade scrutiny.

    I hope that the reason people are offended by this spying more than by private spying is not the policy issue, but the willingness of the government to ignore the Constitution, or at least keep its interpertation secret from the public.

    In particular, the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply to me (currently living in Canada). I’m not formally offended by the US spying on me (of course I’d rather they not, but they have no obligations to me I don’t see why that should stop them, if they want to).. But you (living on the US) should be seriously offended by your government using the excuse that some (most) Facebook users live abroad (and that a scant number are “bad people”) to ignore your 4th Amendment rights.


    • josh
      June 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      I think you overstate the voluntary nature of the transactions. Do you believe you have consented to having your every movement recorded if you carry a cell phone and it is turned on? Do you think that Google should know about every web site you visit?

      I don’t think that the US has the right to invade Canadian’s privacy any more than it does Americans. Actually, I think the concern for US citizens over others is upsetting and dangerous. the US would certainly not accept that China can spy on anyone they want excluding Chinese nationals. Why should other countries accept our “right” to spy on them and their citizens. I think it is dangerous because our disregard for how others view the US harms our long-term interests.


      • June 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

        Do I want my cell-phone company to sell my location information? No, and I would support a law to that effect. Do I want them to give it to the government without a warrant? No either.

        I don’t understand your question about google. If I tell them about each website I visit, then they know. If I don’t then they don’t.

        I’m even more confused by your notion of “rights” as it applies to nation-states. Could you point out to a single case of a nation-state not spying on the citizens of another country because it “lacked the rights” to do so? I don’t recall every seeing a nation-state make decisions about foreign policy based on having or lacking the “right” to do something, as opposed to based on the action being beneficial or harmful (this is different from domestic policy, where Constitutions and laws do limit what governments may do).

        Certainly Canada should be offended by the US spying on Canadians, and should consider sanctioning Google and Facebook for divulging the data of Canadians to a foreign government (assuming that’s illegal under Canadian law; if not then Canadian law should be fixed). The Canadian goverment should also pressure the US diplomatically to stop this practise. But note that these are my expectation from Canada (where I live but am not a citizen), not from the US (on which Government I have no claim). Just because I’m offended by something the US government does does not make the US government beholden to me. I hope US citizens believe that spying on me is bad for their country, and will vote for politicians who believe so, but I certainly can’t claim any particular rights with respect to US government actions.

        As an aside, what I think is actually happenning is that Canada is spying on Americans (which complies with Canadian law), US is spying on Canadians (which complies with US law), and then they swap the data. This has certainly been implied new stories I’ve seen here.


        • nuttmedia
          June 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm

          Lior Silberman :

          I don’t understand your question about google. If I tell them about each website I visit, then they know. If I don’t then they don’t.

          You might want to brush up on how passive internet-tracking can be and what is achievable even without explicit consent. Moreover, the bartering of customer information has been a lucrative business activity long before the internet expanded the possibilities. The extent to which your personal information is traded and leveraged goes far beyond your email, web history, and social media activity. Customer acquisition, and managing the related costs, will forever be a primary component of commerce of any sort.

          The ostensible tradeoff is that the public benefits from these exchanges through targeted offerings, convenience, and the like. So long as those benefits exceed the perceived cost, people are content to live in ignorance of the potential consequences (see above theories).


        • josh
          June 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

          @Lior and others: you might want to install the Collusion add-in in Firefox (or possibly others). It gives a picture of where information about your browsing is going. There are some other add-ins that block such information but: 1) is it very hard to use the internet if you try to block everything 2) it requires knowledge and continual effort because things change. Few will consider it worthwhile, it is so much easier to “consent”. More info in a previous guest post I wrote (and, more notably in the comments as the commenter are better informed than I am.

          Yes, you are correct I was loose in my use of “rights”. But considering that the US considers itself to be allowed to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime it sees fit, it would be good if both US citizens and the international community pressured the US government to stop.


      • David18
        June 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

        > Do you believe you have consented to having your every movement recorded if you carry a cell phone and it is turned on?

        You should know that you can be tracked even if your phone is off. You must remove the battery if you don’t want to be tracked.


        • josh
          June 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm

          David18: thanks very much for the info.

          No, I didn’t know that and it reinforces the point of lack of consent. Even if I had tried to avoid being tracked, I would have been unsuccessful.

          Similarly, it is very hard to avoid on-line tracking even if you don’t want to “consent”. We need better laws.


      • beewhy2012
        June 13, 2013 at 12:23 am

        As a Canadian whose current government has made any number of arrangements to cooperate with the NSA, Homeland Security and the others to better “secure our borders” – arrangements that were never debated or voted on in Parliament – I have no doubt that our security agencies (CSIS and, yes, the Mounties) will have unlimited access to information about me and the rest of my countrymen collected and stored in the massive silos in Utah or wherever. This US vs foreigners thing is not a trivial distinction for me. Josh clearly underscored this with his extremely apposite reference to a Chinese NSA’s use of data collected on the rest of us.


    • josh
      June 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      In addition, Facebook, Twitter and similar forums are increasingly the place for public debate. Personally, I avoid Facebook almost entirely but political forums I would like to be involved in are using them. So, my choice is either to post on Facebook or not to have my voice heard.


  18. June 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    moosesnsquirrels :
    …We are living the nightmare of Eisenhouwer’s “military-industrial complex”…

    Indeed! (actually, Ike wanted to use the hyphenation “military-industrial-congressional complex”, but his speech writer talked him out of it).

    Without a Congress that oversees how its vaguely worded statutes are “interpreted” by rules and regs too often implemented by partisan and lobbyist hacks and lackeys, and without a “free press” uncorrupted by global megacorpses, then We The People are left without the checks and balances intended by the Constitution, and resorting to (hopefully peaceful) civil disobedience (and its often vicious, extrajudicial consequences) becomes our only recourse.


  19. David18
    June 11, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Snapchat which may soon be getting an additional $100 million on funding in an application that deletes the data as soon as it is sent. Perhaps the success of this app will lead the way popularity of other apps that protect our privacy.


  20. Becky Jaffe
    • josh
      June 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      The Onion article is cute. But is also illustrates Cathy’s point that the general impression is that all a company will do with your information is to try to sell you something.; There certainly are more nefarious possibilities.


  21. June 11, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    nuttmedia :

    Lior Silberman :
    I don’t understand your question about google. If I tell them about each website I visit, then they know. If I don’t then they don’t.

    You might want to brush up on how passive internet-tracking can be and what is achievable even without explicit consent. Moreover, the bartering of customer information has been a lucrative business activity long before the internet expanded the possibilities. The extent to which your personal information is traded and leveraged goes far beyond your email, web history, and social media activity. Customer acquisition, and managing the related costs, will forever be a primary component of commerce of any sort.
    The ostensible tradeoff is that the public benefits from these exchanges through targeted offerings, convenience, and the like. So long as those benefits exceed the perceived cost, people are content to live in ignorance of the potential consequences (see above theories).

    I am well aware how this tracking works. I cannot mitigate against sites selling their visitor logs to Google, or tracking me by combination of IP address and browser Ident strings. But most actually track using cookies and scripts, that is using objects that exist entirely in my local browser and are therefore entirely under my control. It’s up to me whether to allow Google to place cookies on my computer, and up to me to allow other sites to read these cookies. In fact there is no shortage of tools that help me do this, including NoScript, NoFlash resetting the browser to a known state between websites, and (in extreme circumstances) Tor. I use these tools, and just because my preferred tradeoff point doesn’t equal yours doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of the consequences of my tradeoffs.


    • nuttmedia
      June 12, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      I did not mean to insinuate you were not aware of how cookies work. I was referring to research such as this:

      Click to access browser-uniqueness.pdf

      My main point was that most people would be very surprised at the level of information that is routinely shared outside of anything internet-related.

      I also was not grouping you with those who do not care about the privacy issue or its consequences. Clearly from your original post, it is something of great concern to you. As MB posited, there are a great many number of people who comfortable with the sharing of their personal info, either through ignorance (again, not you), or because it works in their favor (my point).

      You seem to have taken my commentary personally, so I apologize if you took offense. I actually get the idea we would see eye to eye on this. My phrasing on “perceived cost” was intentional. I really think most people are unaware of the extend their personal info is leveraged and if they did, perhaps they would think twice about how they conduct themselves, both online and offline.


    • josh
      June 13, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Well, if you did try to make different tradeoffs you would discover how cumbersome it is. When a web page I want is not working and NoScript presents me with 10 scripts from cryptic places that are trying to run it is difficult and time-consuming to guess at the one that really controls the feature I want as opposed to the tracking.

      What’s more, it is burdensome to stay on top of the changing technology. Do the tools I have installed protect against the new techniques. In addition, as you note, there is a lot that can’t be controlled.

      It is not as simple as different people making different tradeoffs. You are not ignorant of the tradeoffs, but most people are.

      It is so much easier to “consent” almost everyone will do so.


  22. Abe Kohen
    June 11, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I don’t like what private companies are doing with my data, and I usually have a choice to not do business with them. They can screw up my credit rating by having errors in their files and that would get me upset. But I can’t stop doing business with government, be it city, state or federal. City tried to screw me after lying about sending me tax notices when I ran a consultancy years ago. State reported an erroneous lien for a relative which has taken me years to straighten out. They promised I would have the letter I need for the Albany Court (and eventually for the credit reporting agencies) in about two months. Only time will tell. Federal: I was born in Communist Hungary. I’ve seen what governments will do with data. Watch the German movie: Lives of Others. But far worse is the latest IRS scandal. You just cannot trust government. Plain and simple. Power corrupts. Arrogance corrupts. Nixon did it, Now Obama is doing it. It’s not about Left or Right.


  23. Recovering Banker
    June 12, 2013 at 7:06 am

    For me at least, it would be a variant of the last theory (was 5 now 6). The current narrative is that the snooping is (mostly) harmless. There is no counter-narrative of how this is giving tools to bad guys that will cause you harm.

    Imagine if it transpired that paedophiles were using private data collection services to determine when and where your kids were most approachable? I think that would provoke a visceral response for a lot of people.


  24. June 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

    PBS did a good series about “Secret America” and it’s worth watching and saddened me yesterday to hear that PBS news is going to go away as we know it now and rely on outsourced journalists in July, back to that Big Bird budget cut I guess. It is scary that almost a million private company employees work for these companies. Are they going to save their data mining techniques all for the government…probably not:) Something to be aware of as they might find other buyers for the data besides the government and I’m sure it’s done and for this reason I have been advocating to license and tax the data sellers who profit in in the billions, i.e. Walgreens making close to a billion a year, just selling data and puts profits right to their bottom line.


    Today I talked about a health insurer that is approaching the too big to fail category too as when you look at United they have truckloads of subsidiaries they created and see how tight they are tied in via contracts with the VA and other parts of the military so is it no wonder they say “no” to participating in insurance exchanges when they have built their profitability with military contracts and even created a subsidiary just to go after such?


    It’s not just claim data anymore as they have wellness, HMOs, clearinghouses, etc. they own so when you look at the corporation for what it is including all interests, the public has a real wake up call coming with how they use data as well and they do it as they go away with paying MDs and hospitals short for 15 years until Cuomo caught them…and they licensed the formulas to all the other major insurers…so now we have lawsuits and litigation all over the place…keep in mind too that insurers use information and data to the max and they are not the same companies they used to be. Truckloads of subsidiaries means truckloads of data:)


  25. June 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Where is the outrage about SECRECY?


    • jameselgringo
      June 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

      The problem is secret operations and secretive organizations. We need transparency in *all* of government.


  26. tawal
    June 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    They are trying to save the postal system by getting people to go back to snail mail.


    • jameselgringo
      June 13, 2013 at 9:22 am

      I’d love to see the postal system attempt some form of secure email.


  27. Alf
    June 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    You have to place this in the context of scandalmania. This is the Obama administration, we can’t forget that we have been primed for major antigovernment freak-out lately. The difference this time is that both the left and the Tea Party are in agreement. It’s like a low pressure system coming in from the West and drawing on gulf moisture over Chicago- it’s quite the storm.


    • beewhy2012
      June 16, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Some drew the – to me – troubling parallel between the Tea Party and Occupy during the days of OWS. The Tea Party at core is pure anarcho-libertarian. One of Occupy’s beefs (if I may be so bold as to utter an opinion on it) was that government deregulation had led to the debt crisis. Both were anti-government, but the former was utterly disestablishmentarian – against all government -; the other was disgusted and outraged that the standing government had abrogated its responsibility and left the rest of us – the 99% – holding the bag.
      It’s not a case of my enemy’s enemy, I’d say.


  28. September 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    There is NO WAY to prevent snooping/surveillance in the US. Everything you wrote is ESPECIALLY TRUE of the healthcare system, which no one expects!

    Most people think HIPAA protects data privacy, but it actually eliminates your control over health information. See: http://patientprivacyrights.org/truth-hipaa/

    Worse we have NO MAP of where our health data flows inside or outside the healthcare system. See: http://www.theDataMap.org

    Help save privacy by defending your rights to control personal health data. Sign up to learn more at: http://www.patientprivacyrights.org


    • Abe Kohen
      September 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Good points.

      Insurance companies are fond of throwing HIPAA at me whenever I question a reimbursement for my wife’s medical bills, even though she has signed and faxed in consent forms. Most people would just give up, which is what they are counting on. But not me.


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