With my modest vacation rental sideline, SeaCat’sRest, I am frequently confronted by privacy issues. I’ve already ranted about facebook. The latest privacy news on the national scene is all about the NSA and how they read our emails and tap into our phone conversations. I’m honestly not that worried about NSA, since I know several federal employees, and they assure me by their example as well as directly, that the government is not capable of inflicting the kind of dystopia some are worried about. Call it incompetence, inefficiency, lack of resources or motivation, it is just not like the government to succeed at such a massive task. Need I mention the Affordable Care Act website?
What I find worrisome is the “surveillance economy”. This is a term I found in an article by Martin Hirst in Australia’s New Philosopher:
Surveillance is “big data” and big data is big business. The surveillance economy puts information transactions at its core and when the bottom is dropping out of the market for real goods and services, capitalism will adapt. The latest systemic adaptation is to embrace new ways of surveilling customers and then turning the collected data into something that someone else is willing to buy.
The value of big data has been compared to the oil boom or “panning for gold” in terms of potential profitability. The numbers are staggering: 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by the end of this decade; so much available data to be mined that it doesn’t yet have a number to describe it. So many connections are available to be tapped, correlated, combed, combined and sold that any attempt to visualise the connections would look like a spaghetti junction map of the universe with every planet, star and comet connected to every other object. The value of this market is currently estimated at over A$39 billion annually and growing at around 9% per year according to analysts IDC.
In other words, inject a little profit motive into the activity of eavesdropping, and it’s Brave New World.
I have become suspicious of anything on the internet I sign up for, since I know the site I want to access might sell my info. Even those mysterious cold calls from “Heather at credit card services” is using the fact that I answered my phone as a source of profit. Heather gets her number added to my list of screened numbers at my landline company. And then there’s the infuriating ads at the side of just about every website. They promise to reveal one weird trick or tell us the warning signs of dementia (no doubt targeting me, because of my age group), all for filling out a little info about ourselves.
So how about our affordableacadia.com and your privacy when you contact me about my spot on the coast of Maine? First of all, I use Homeaway/VRBO as a way to get most of my customers. My reason for starting this website was to make them unnecessary, but that hasn’t happened yet. One of the things I have opted out of is going through Homeaway/VRBO after you make your initial inquiry. I really don’t want their corporation looking over our shoulders while we negotiate, or handling the money at the end. Imagine how valuable your personal info is once you prove you have enough money for a stay. They can’t have it! I’m not suggesting that Homeaway sells your info, I just don’t want to take the time to find out. The info you do provide me goes onto a spreadsheet and stays on my computer. None of your info is ever released or sold to anyone.
I just read an article about how gmail is further attempting to monetize its service by making it possible for their new facebook clone, google+, members to send you an email. The article includes 5 steps to reclaim a modicum of anonymity in your gmail account, including opting out of google +. I recommend taking the steps.
I embrace new technology and realize the benefits of the information revolution. I am not a “prepper” or paranoid nutcase. But I hope the excesses of the surveillance economy will soon be remedied. In the meantime I am trying to not become part of it!