So, the reaction to my story about my coworker’s 10-year-old going all Scooby Doo on the guy who had the nerve to steal his dad’s car was definitely mixed. Most people, of course, lauded the 10-year-old’s detective work. Others pointed out the dark side.
And there is a dark side.
One asked whether the government will force us to let them track our every move. I don’t think they will, because they don’t need to. We gladly volunteer to get tracked and monitored. If the government made us wear an ankle bracelet like someone under house arrest, it would be a downgrade.
People willingly plug a device under their dashboard that tracks where they park, how fast they drive, how suddenly they brake, how much they roll stop signs, so they get better prices on their auto insurance.
People willingly let their phones do the same thing, so their phone can tell them the fastest way to get where they’re going. Their phone may not know the usual route is slow because of a water main break, but the phone knows it’s slow, giving an advantage over hipsters with a traditional GPS or luddites who navigate by memory.
Then again, they don’t have to do that. Your cellular provider knows where you are. They have since analog cell phones went out of style. Every cell tower your phone connects to logs you. You may very well be getting tracked with no added benefit at all, except the very low likelihood that you’ll ever miss a call, or be unable to make one.
The company who made your phone, or at least its operating system, knows where you are too. Apple, Google and Microsoft all track your location, for various reasons.
People willingly give their phone number at stores in order to get discounts on future purchases in the form of rewards points.
Sometimes that isn’t necessary because the merchants can just track you by your credit or debit card information and automatically print you coupons based on what they know you do and don’t buy. Your store will know you’re pregnant before your family does. If it doesn’t know before you do, that time is coming. If they aren’t selling that information to other parties, it’s just a matter of time before they will. How you eat may very well play into what you pay for life insurance. What you own may play into what you pay for homeowner’s insurance, based on the insurance company’s perception of whether certain things you own make you safer or less safe, or perhaps those items’ likelihood of getting stolen. Perhaps your rates will be lower if you buy off-brand electronics. The insurance company will decide. The insurance company doesn’t care about your opinion on the matter.
You already get better rates on your homeowner’s insurance and your mortgage if you buy floor protectors with your credit card, because your insurance company and your bank will profile you as someone who is responsible and takes care of your stuff. There are hundreds, if not thousands of seemingly meaningless things they analyze like that to decide what kind of person you are.
And do we even need to talk about Facebook? Maybe. There are some people whose every move shows up in their Facebook feed. The only thing I don’t know is when they sleep or go to the bathroom, but since those are the only two things they don’t share, I even know that.
No single company necessarily knows everything about you, although your insurance company probably comes the closest, but collectively, the companies you do business with know you better than you know yourself.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all reluctant to share that information with the government. They didn’t used to be, but after the government stole information from Google that Google had been perfectly willing to give them as long as they asked, Google became hostile. Microsoft already was hostile but grew more hostile based on Google’s experience. Apple did too.
But if the government shows up with a warrant, they’ll comply.
Other companies’ attitudes toward the government will vary but most probably are much less hostile than the Apple/Google/Microsoft oligarchy. Although if some form of net neutrality were to go through, telecoms would automatically become more hostile, which would be a good thing, seeing as your cell phone provider also knows where you go and can figure out how fast you drive.
So what can you do about it?
It’s going to be inconvenient. Pay cash whenever possible. It’s inconvenient, and carries risk if it’s stolen–remember those commercials that told you to carry American Express traveler’s checks?–but it’s difficult enough to trace that stores won’t bother. If nothing else, if you care who knows you own something, pay cash for that.
If your insurance company wants you to plug a device into your car’s ODB2 port under your dashboard, resist. Eventually that may be a requirement, but right now you have a choice. Choose no.
Your cell phone doesn’t have to be on all the time. Carry it with you in case of emergencies, but if you pull the battery, it’s not tracking you. Of course, many fancier phones don’t have a removable battery. Look for that option.
When a business wants your phone number, street address, or e-mail address, you don’t have to give them the right one. You live at 2327 Lafayette Ave., St. Louis MO 63104. Got that? I will neither confirm nor deny having given that out as my own address.
Shop at small businesses. The more independent, the better. Getting data out of them is too inconvenient, so nobody’s going to ask. Be careful about using a credit card at one, though.
Don’t load the Facebook app on your phone or tablet, or if you do, keep very close tabs on it. You don’t want your phone checking in every place you go, telling everyone who knows where to look when you are or aren’t at home. Facebook knows way too much about you anyway; it doesn’t need to know that too.
Don’t buy a smart TV. Make sure your smarts are provided by a device that plugs into the TV that you can turn off when you’re not using it, and ideally isn’t a Blu-Ray device running on Java. “Java” is a word from a forgotten language that means “don’t plug this into your network unless you like bad things to happen.”
Here’s the thing. We agreed to all of this voluntarily. All of it is immensely convenient. And the reason I’m not terribly paranoid is because I haven’t seen all of this being used against people except to manipulate pricing. It’s far more profitable to keep people alive and spending money.
And because it’s all so convenient, we like it this way. Well, except when a troublemaker like me explains it like I just did, perhaps.
I’ve probably just convinced precisely 12 people to go off the network. Some will even find they like it better that way, for a time. But I’ll bet that given enough time, they’ll be back. Everyone comes back.