If you’re concerned about Amazon, or online privacy in general… On a serious note, Amazon’s policies are gathering attention. As one who, as Pournelle puts it, “makes a living showing off” (and I have more or less since the age of 16), I’ve never worried about privacy. I quickly got used to the idea that if I drove down to Rally’s for a burger, there was a decent chance that someone who knew who I was would see me doing it, and that didn’t bother me much. Once I started seriously writing about computers, I couldn’t go into computer stores without getting a bunch of questions, not to mention introductions (“Hey! This is Dave Farquhar, the computer columnist for the Missourian!”) And of course people wanted to know what I was buying and what I thought of it and/or what I was planning to do with it. That didn’t bother me much either. If people like the stuff I write and respect my opinion enough to care that I like Rally’s hamburgers and Maxtor hard drives, well, that’s a high compliment.
It was a little different after I moved to St. Louis–I had a big crowd of people to lose myself in, but I still have far less privacy than the Average Joe.
Privacy? Never had it. Never really wanted it. But, as one of my friends at work is so fond of pointing out, “We’re not all like you.”
So. How to solve the Amazon (or other Web site) problem if you’re not like me? Spread misinformation. How? Easy. Go get Proxomitron, which, in addition to blocking ads, offers to reject all cookies for you. It also offers to lie about your referring page (it always says you came from a Shoenen Knife fan site), your browser version, browser type, and even your OS (the default is Win67, which makes for some good questions. Windows 1967? Windows 2067? 67-bit Windows?). If you’re paranoid that too many people will use Proxomitron and see the pattern, you can edit the filters yourself. (Try telling ’em you’re running Internet Explorer 7.0 under CP/M 2.2. That’ll get a laugh.) It’s a nice tool.
Remember, incorrect information is far worse than no information. If you want to stop people from gathering information, the trick isn’t to refuse. It’s to give them misinformation. I’m a professional information gatherer. Trust me on this.