What Privacy?

By McCrary, Ernest S. | Global Finance, January 2001 | Go to article overview

What Privacy?


McCrary, Ernest S., Global Finance


The most striking conclusion of any analysis of privacy and security on the Internet is, of course, that there is none. Or very little. And a tiny security breach potentially is just as damaging as a huge gap in protection.

The pervasiveness of technology and the skill of vandals, crooks, and mean people in twisting it to harmful use, is only one part of the problem. Your odds of being personally victimized by an identity thief or credit card raider probably are pretty small.

More insidious-and ultimately more worrying-is the "legitimate" use of once private information by Web-based marketers who now can monitor in minute detail just about every aspect of the lives of people who use e-mail and surf the Internet.

This isn't entirely new. Over the past 50 years, direct marketers have perfected research techniques that can predict the kind of car you are most likely to buy, just on the basis of your age, sex, and address. But this is Stone Age chiseling compared with the sophistication of individual profiling that can be accomplished today.

It doesn't take a genius to see where this is all heading, given the explosive growth of electronic "data mining" in the past three years.At some point consumers are going to rebel, and companies that insist on squeezing the boundaries of privacy tighter and tighter are likely to pay some kind of price. …

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