Losing Our Privacy

By Norb Rug

Surveillance cameraWe are losing our privacy bit by byte.

I recently noticed that when I looked on the internet for something, ads for this product would appear on the side bar of my browser.

A simple search for my name on the internet resulted in over 5,000 results.

Every move we make on our PCs, smartphones and tablets turns into data that trackers can easily collect and share.

The ads appear because you have left behind your digital footprint. When you log onto a site, that information is stored for a vendor’s future use.

A large variety of online sites insert “cookies” (small bits of data) on your computer. Take a look at the “Cookies” on your computer bowser some time. It will list almost every website you have ever signed in on. Some of these cookies let companies track you as you surf the web, seeing which websites you visit, which advertising you click on and what you buy online.

When you click on the “keep me connected” option on websites like Facebook, you are likewise permitting those sites to follow you as you surf the Web.

Every time you purchase something with a credit card, pay your property taxes or even subscribe to a magazine — that information is entered into a database somewhere. Not only is your financial and medical history shared but also where you travel and what you buy. It is virtually impossible to find out the amount of information that different organizations have on you, to ensure its accuracy or to be able to control who has access to it.

Social security numbers are highly valued by identity thieves. They are used both as identifiers and to authenticate banking, credit card and other transactions. Hackers have accessed these data bases and stolen credit card numbers or applied for new credit cards in the victim’s name and gone on buying sprees.

Even innocent looking apps like Facebook “quizzes” may be collecting a great deal of information about you. They might collect data about your name, your age, your gender, your physical address, email address or your phone number. Some of them even collect info on which device you use to surf the Internet and quite possibly your religious and political affiliation or relationship status.

The increasing volume of data that numerous organizations gather about a person can then be linked because they all use the same identifier. In the U.S. it is your social security number. This identifier based approach trades security against your personal privacy. The more information that organizations have on you, the less privacy and control you maintain. This information could be used to shield them against fraud or merely to simplify targeted marketing.

Much of the data amassed doesn’t involve a person’s financial information. In today’s identifier based world, all of a person’s credentials are easily linked. If an insurance agent is deciding whether to insure a customer they can use thier name and date of birth to access thier credit score, medical records, driving information and even criminal record.

It is estimated that there are over 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States. An average American citizen might be caught on camera many times a day. Every time you walk past a security camera, it captures a picture of you. Cameras can be hidden in smoke detectors, light fixtures and even children’s toys (nanny cams).

Almost every store, pharmacy and fast food drive-thru you visit, has cameras. They’re also at parking garages, banks and the post office. If you are waiting in line at a store, you are having your picture taken for security reasons.

If you want to see a lot of cameras just go into Home Depot. They must have one every 20 to 25 feet. I gave up trying to count them.

I see cameras hanging off my neighbor’s garage, telephone poles and buildings in high security or high crime areas. There are weather cams and cameras installed on public transportation. The police also have dash cams and license plate cams mounted on the police cars that read your license plate number as you drive by.

According to the ACLU, “The information captured by the readers — including the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of every scan — is being collected and sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems.”

There are 35 traffic cameras on the New York State Thruway in the Buffalo region alone, and 35 on the I-190. There are multiple traffic cams on the international bridges to Canada and 18 cameras on Route 33.

You cannot travel on any of the major roads in Western New York without being photographed

Many cell phones have a Global positioning system (GPS) feature on them. You frequently will have to turn this feature off as it is on by default. This is how law enforcement and others can locate you. If you have Sirius radio on your car, where you can call for help, Sirius can locate you using GPS. They can even detect when you have an accident and send emergency help automatically when you need it.

People concerned about losing their personal privacy are just a little too late. They lost it years ago.  We have locked the front door and left the back door wide open.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. He blogs at WhyWNY.home.blog.

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