The Internet – A shining beacon of knowledge, or a pit of personal exploitation?

You come home from a hard day’s work, and you’re exhausted. You get an ice-cold beer out of the fridge and slump on the sofa with your laptop. You fancy a quick browse to get your mind off the hustle and bustle of working life and visit a few sites, check the news. Maybe you download a few songs…

Little did you know that your personal information had been released into the vast, unforgiving void of cyberspace and ended up in the hands of a couple dozen companies. These companies, such as Acxiom or Dunnhumby then sell your data for quite a hefty profit to “third parties” (credit card companies, banks, deparment stores). How else do you think cold callers get your number?
The harsh truth

Although most companies use this data to attempt to sell you things, others use it for more sinister reasons. Insurance companies can use personal data to judge who to cover. Credit card companies use the data to monitor, analyse and judge your credit-worthiness. The list goes on.

Another intimidating factor is that it’s practically unavoidable. Research dictates that the average person would have to read over 250 hours of “terms and conditions” and other bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to actually try and attempt to stay out of the clutches of the data-cataloguers. You would have to use adblocking programs 24/7, using pseudonymns when signing up for an online service etc… With the ugly irony being that you’ve “read” and signed the “I have read the terms and conditions” documents (who does) and effectively and unbeknownst to you, handed them a golden key to your information safe. It’s especially sneaky and underhanded when they do this right after you’ve bought a service like a console game, or downloaded any new software.

Its not only on the internet either. In fact, you would have to live as an escaped fugitive in order to hide from the data-collectors. You would have to pay cash all the time or use pre-paid credit cards. On top of that, you would have to use pre-paid mobile phones… yes, that means the untracable “burners” associated with drug dealers that are thrown away once the minutes are used up, which the majority population couldn’t afford.
It’s not all doom and gloom

At the end of the day though, it’s nothing to really worry about. Companies only collate – and I use this term in regard to the big picture – “minor” data about you (email addresses, home telephone number, country you live in to name but a few) to other companies just for the sole purpose of building up a “databank” so-to-speak about what products or services you are most likely to buy or are interested in. They don’t collect important information about what town or village you live, bank account details etcetera.

As people are getting wiser to privacy issues and security, there has been outcry about the option of non-tracable cookies and sites, which haven’t fallen on deaf ears. Google has said it will implement a “do not track” option; so companies are starting to take heed – which will inevitably result in more privacy as smaller companies are bound to follow suit.

Will privacy ever be truly private? Who knows.

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