Hello Harry! BDSM is on the second floor

I wrote about how we are subject to electronic tracking and surveillance a short while back (see) and I have been noting more and more encroachments into our freedom, mostly by corporations that want to increase their market-share and make more money.

Macy'sIt started with a discussion on NPR which covered the initial premise that with online shopping growing and spreading, the traditional brick and mortar stores were beginning to feel the pinch and they would be going the way of the non-Walmart Hardware Store if they didn’t change their business model. One of the people in the discussion was a bit of a futurist and he laid out an interesting scenario:  with all the information available about everyone in the country (world?) when you as a consumer walk into a large store you will be greeted by name and directed to products and services that match your interests as collected and analyzed from internet sales, credit card records, and preferences collected from all the social networking sites on the web. Just the history of the sites you visit will provide an adequate and possibly embarrassing view into your personality and character. You don’t even need to check library reading lists any more, it’s all digitized and available online.

Are you getting nervous?

I have personally adopted the strategy of avoiding most of the online spots like Facebook that make a righteous buck out of selling information about our personal lives. People are becoming commodities and the only reason a website might backtrack on their practices is if there is enough of a backlash to suggest they might loose money and prestige. But never think that they are actually concerned with our individual freedoms. Still, since I can hardly operate on the internet and not expect some level of surveillance, I pick my own OK Corral and go balls-out with all the questionable stuff in my life so it can be data-mined by the average six-year-old.

How valuable are you if anyone can read all about you and all about your preferences and opinions in one obvious place. Add to this a humble opinion that there is little advantage to gathering data about me and I feel my personal freedom has trumped corporate spying.

Now I read an article where silly things like our Netflix selections may be used to control subversives in this country. The article by Thom Hartman, Netflix Blacks Out the Revolution, is worth reading:

Red BrigadeYou might want to think twice about streaming that “subversive” documentary about the Weather Underground on Netflix. If Republicans have their way, you just might end up on a watch list somewhere.

This week, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the 1988 Video Protection Privacy Act, which forbids movie rental companies from sharing or selling their customers’ viewing history. The Senate is expected to take up the amendment soon.

If this passes, what you watch on Netflix may soon become public information that your friends, employers, and even the government will have access to. Are you regretting streaming the latest Harold and Kumar yet? Or all those soft-porn chick-flicks?

Netflix favors the law change because it will help them branch into social media and connect Facebook customers to each other based on their similar tastes in films. Unmentioned by Netflix is the enormous profit-potential in selling your viewing history to advertisers who can target specific demographics based on your preference in movies. Also unmentioned by Netflix is just who else might get this information once it’s taken out of the privacy lockbox.

The current version of the amendment does include a provision requiring Netflix to get their customers’ consent before sharing their viewing history. That’s helpful to those of us who are aware of the online threats to our privacy. But the vast majority of Americans, especially younger generations of Americans, are completely unaware that their privacy is in danger when they plug into the Internet. And it’ll probably end up being part of those notorious “terms and conditions” that you check the “I agree” box for, just to get onto the site.

I have to confess that I seldom read all those “terms and conditions” that flash up on so many websites, and now I wonder whether I promised my first born child to some naissant digital meat-market I passed through years ago. Truth is, however, that every day life is becoming more and more integrated in the digital world and short of escaping to a line shack in Northern Montana, the commercial world is going to have a frighteningly complete digital picture of your entire life.

A bright spot might be that these marketers are not that smart. I think we all agree that the recent Romney campaign proves this but I have even seen it in commercial campaigns:  for instance, I bought a pair of binoculars about two years ago and to this day I get an email prompting me to buy a pair of binoculars from the same source. Why would they think I would want more than one pair of binoculars, especially when the use the information from my earlier purchase to target the type of binoculars I might want to buy:  in other words, they are trying to sell me the exact thing I already bought from them.

One final note:  I rented Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex from Netflix so if I disappear one day, you’ll know why.

What are your thoughts on this?

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