Is it paranoid to mistrust companies with your data?

Image by Oliver Widder, CC by-ND 2.0

No, this isn’t about Facebook versus Google+. Though, on that topic, it’s worth noting that lots of people have been citing concerns over privacy as their biggest reason for wanting to leave Facebook. Hello? And go over to Google? The company that allows me to look up a picture of the front of your house? The company that fought a battle to scan every book in existence into their computers? Yeah, Facebook is obnoxious with the way they continually expose your information in new ways, forcing you to be ever-vigilant, and in the way they seem to consider privacy an outmoded concept. But I’m not convinced Google is the knight in white armor here.

But actually I’m more interested in talking about the other ways we let ourselves be bribed into giving up little chunks of our privacy–as if offering up our friends’ e-mail addresses in exchange for finding out what 90210 character we are wasn’t enough.

Tonight I saw a commercial for a service from Progressive Insurance called Snapshot. Evidently this isn’t new, but I don’t watch a lot of television, so it’s new to me. Apparently you can sign up to have a little monitor installed in your car, which will track your driving time, speed, and braking intensity, and send that information to Progressive via cellular signal, and then you’ll get discounts based on your driving habits. They say that you can only get discounts, and that your rates can’t go up as a result of the data that is collected.

Right. And the toll booths will be removed as soon as the road is paid for. Also, the federal income tax is a temporary measure. And we have always been at war with Eastasia.

This program’s evil twin is the car rental agencies that use GPS to issue fines to their customers who speed–regardless of whether they receive a ticket. But who’s to say one won’t morph into the other, once the ice is broken, once customers are accustomed to the idea of being tracked and watched over by the companies they do business with?

There are lots of other services like this that benignly track users. I’m a little freaked out by GM’s OnStar program–which can be turned on at the request of the police, even if you don’t subscribe. Okay, more than a little.

I’m totally guilty of accepting the ability to spy on me in exchange for convenience, though, because my phone is an Android device that can track me pretty accurately even when my GPS is off. But that’s okay because I can turn data collection, and even the phone itself, off–or can I? (Incidentally, your inactive phone can also be used to listen in on your conversations.) Perhaps more damningly, I have one of those automatic toll-paying doohickeys in my car.

Photo by Jeff Hall, CC by-ND 2.0

Or maybe it’s okay because I have nothing to hide, right? Isn’t that what they say right before they perform a warrantless search?

I know, tinfoil hat talk, right? Maybe it’s because my parents both immigrated from a country where the government did turn into the enemy of its people that I don’t trust any large powerful entity–not just the government, but corporations as well–to automatically do right by people.

The problem is it’s so hard to walk away from all that darn convenience, right?

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4 Responses to Is it paranoid to mistrust companies with your data?

  1. Tom Emmons says:

    That seems to be the question of the day. Transparency has it’s up sides and downsides. On the one hand, it means that you have to be very careful, all of the time. On the other, if you are accused of something, it can exonerate you.

  2. Of course, nomatter where you hide…Rupert Murdoch can hack into your email and voicemail…

  3. Alina Blanco says:

    “Maybe it’s because my parents both immigrated from a country where the government did turn into the enemy of its people that I don’t trust any large powerful entity–not just the government, but corporations as well–to automatically do right by people.”

    I completely identify with this statement. Definitely a Cuban-American thing. Also an All-American thing, which is one of the reasons I love this country.

  4. Joe says:

    *nod*

    I feel, though, that Americans have become complacent in the notion that their/our government can’t possibly turn against them/us. Be corrupt? Sure. Mismanage things? Sure. But can we stop being the “land of the free”? I think most Americans don’t really buy that one, deep down inside. And that is something that is all to real to the two of us.

    I might still let myself be “bribed” with some bauble of convenience, but I’ll look at it a lot more askance than some people, who can’t conceive that it could be anything other than benevolent.

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