restricted access 11. Invasion of the Data Snatchers
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C H A P T E R 1 1 o INVASION OF THE DATA SNATCHERS Just when one thought a world dealing with the threat of Big Brother couldn’t get any more frightening, enter the latest villain in the war against privacy, corporate America. Many individuals concerned about privacy suggest that the threat of corporations collecting data on Americans has become more insidious than that of the government . Garfinkel hints at a shift in focus by privacy advocates from Big Brother to corporate America: The future we are rushing towards isn’t one where our every move is watched and recorded by some all-knowing ‘‘Big Brother.’’ It is instead a future of a hundred kid brothers that constantly watch and interrupt our daily lives. George Orwell thought that the Communist system represented the ultimate threat to individual liberty. Over the next 50 years, we will see new kinds of threats to privacy that don’t find their roots in totalitarianism, but in capitalism, the free market, advanced technology, and the unbridled exchange of electronic information.1 Data Collection by Corporations There is no arguing that data is the lifeblood of the modern corporation . For example, it’s likely that many of you reading this went to the grocery store this week and used a supermarket discount card when checking out. The card saves you a few dollars and allows the grocery PAGE 153 153 .......................... 10897$ CH11 08-31-04 10:09:50 PS 154 Chapter 11 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • store to learn a little about you. According to Catalina Marketing, which specializes in supermarket loyalty card programs, one third of the nation’s thirty thousand supermarkets use them and many are mandatory .2 Through the card, the store can create a history of all your purchases , which it can use for marketing purposes. For instance, if the store knows you buy health products, it may offer you a discount on a new line of vitamins. Like the grocery store, virtually every company or organization you interact with creates an electronic record of your transactions. Richard Ericson and Kevin Haggerty highlight the wide range of data that is stored on individuals in a modern society.3 These include data on personal credentials (birth certificates, driver’s licenses); financial activity (ATM cards, credit cards, tax returns); insurance (health, home, and vehicular policies); social services (files relating to social benefits, health care, and pensions); utility services (data from telephone, cable television); real estate (purchase, sale, and lease agreements); entertainment (travel documents, theater tickets, Nielsen Ratings); consumer activity (purchase records, credit accounts, survey of consumer preferences); employment (applications, examinations, performance assessments); education (applications, records, references); and legal services (court records, legal aid files). Although individual databases put many at unease, the more pressing fear is when companies combine distinct databases to create comprehensive profiles on consumers. Today many billion-dollar marketing firms and information brokers specialize in building large data warehouses of consumer data. In fact, any company with enough financial resources can create such a database because the sources of data are numerous. Information, including marriage, property, and mortgage information, can be obtained from list brokers, telephone companies, bank and financial databases, credit reports, and public records. In other cases, companies have joined together in the data-collection effort by forming holding companies, where affiliate members share information with one another under a single corporate umbrella. Tracking Online Behavior Critics also worry about the rapidly accumulating data on peoples’ online activities. In a digital medium like the virtual world of cyberspace , it is very easy to capture and store a record, or ‘‘electronic footprint ,’’ of someone’s activities. Unless you have been living under a PAGE 154 .......................... 10897$ CH11 08-31-04 10:09:50 PS Invasion of the Data Snatchers 155 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • rock and have never seen a modem, you are probably aware that one way this occurs is through the use of cookies, text files written to your computer with unique numbers that allow a Web site to know when you return. Cookies are often paired with another technology called Web bugs. These are little pieces of code, the size of a period and hidden in the Hypertext Markup Language that powers a Web page. The Web bug is like a beacon that announces your arrival by reading your cookie, tracking your activities on the Web page, and then sending the information back to the server. The information may not identify you personally, but if you register with a Web site, the number...


Subject Headings

  • Privacy, Right of -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Social control -- United States.
  • War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.
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