– Ben Martens

Privacy: You Have None

A while back somebody commented that the emailed receipts from various physical stores feels like a privacy concern because they know your email. Umm… let’s take a step back and think about all the ways that you are being tracked today:

  • Do you have a credit/debit card? Each individual store you shop at is able to track all of your purchases through that card. And then on top of that, your credit card company knows a LOT about your personality, your purchasing habits, where you shop, what time of day you’re shopping, and much more. That data all gets aggregated up and most likely is sold off to advertisers etc.
  • Do you have a frequent shopper card? Why do you think that the grocery store gives you discounts if you use their frequent shopper card? It’s because they are able to make more money off of you if you know your buying habits. If everyone used their credit card every time they shopped, they wouldn’t need these cards.
  • Do you use the internet? Your internet service provider knows everything you do online unless you’ve taken steps to use encrypted sites or a VPN. But even then, almost every website you visit is dropping a tracking cookie onto your computer so they can understand your browsing habits. And have you seen things like the Facebook Like button showing up all over the web? Anytime you even view a page with a Like button, the fact that you saw it is getting sent back to Facebook. Facebook and ad networks have huge amounts of data about what sites you visit.
  • Do you walk around? That cell phone in your pocket is a huge tracking beacon. The cell phone company knows where you are at all times because they can tell which cell phone towers you’re connecting to. And when you walk through stores, they can watch for the completely unique WiFi signals that your phone is putting out and then track your path through not just that store but other stores that they are affiliated with.

The list goes on and on and on. You are the product. Companies are buying and selling your information, and thankfully, it’s almost always a benefit to us. We get discounts at stores, cash back on our credit cards, better store layouts, coupons targeted at our interests, and free websites. But if the fact that a company knows your email address creeps you out or you’re paranoid about why ads show up on one site for something you searched for on another site, then you better take a huge step back, educate yoursef and rethink your approach to all aspects of your life. Stop carrying a cell phone. Pay cash for everything. Never sign up for a frequent shopper card. Don’t use the internet. Do those four things and you’re off to a good start (but you’re not even close to done.) You might want to add a tinfoil hat to the list too.