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SPOTLIGHT
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Privacy policies gone haywire

Published on -9/26/2013, 10:16 AM

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I received an email warning me about the Google privacy policy changes. I read the link, checked out the source and reviewed a few things about the story.

The buzz about the NSA tracking through our emails at will is quite an issue. It's a story ripe for conspiracy theorists. And really, they're not wrong to be upset about this intrusion on their privacy. It has the potential for every Kafka plot line.

Software tracks what you see and where you click. Sites leave cookies so they recognize you when you log on. It's how Amazon knows what you might like by what you've ordered before or looked at last time. It's the way Google shows what's trending by how many clicks that topic has gotten.

And because there's money to be made, the advertisers have figured out a few ways onto your system you won't even notice, which is the same type of software used to hack you. What passes for an ad can be malware made to disrupt your life in any number of ways.

The way I understand this, it's OK if you never click on an ad. Back up everything, and do it to disk. Don't trust the Internet; it has the perplexing quality of losing your stuff while at the same time your stuff never really is gone.

I was at a training session for PCS, a long time ago in the land of Sykes, and we talked about privacy and freedom issues. The trainer was a real geek who had done enough sessions to have the talking points down to a practiced diatribe.

When asked about security, he said "they have you anywhere, any way they want you." Don't put stuff on the Web you don't want your mother to see because it will be there forever. "Mining" the Web is part of the commerce of the Web, so get used to it. If you ordered from Amazon just once, you're in about 300 databases. Your imprint is everywhere digitally.

I never fact-checked him, but the point remains, we're all atoms in this cloud, and we all leave a trace on the landscape. In an interesting juxtaposition, the tech world absconded with a Buddhist contemplation, and the ephemeral cloud of spirit became the cloud of the Internet. A metaphor is a metaphor, for all that.

You are in a database from the moment your mother went to the doctor for pregnancy verification. You pay your premiums, use a debit or credit card, whatever. Someone accesses you every day, in a hundred different ways. The security cameras at drive-ups note the date and time of your appearance. Any number of cameras -- some in space -- can catch you sitting at a stoplight or pulling into a parking lot. The cloud is endless in every direction.

In the land of the Internet, where you can get any information you want at any time (pretty much) the possibilities are endless for both profit and exploit. The digital world is no different than the tangible one; it's best to be careful. As careful as you can be, that is. Education is the best defense against liars, cheats and thieves.

The concern about privacy seems to be a generational one. Whether from lack of wisdom or education -- or both -- the younger generation seems to miss the point about privacy. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we need to get over ourselves and stop being squeamish about the information.

But, oh yeah, there's money involved. Now it gets squirrely.

And I know, just because there is an inordinate amount of money involved, and the field is rife with takers, I will be completely unable to do a thing about the infringement of my privacy. This is some of the muck of the mundane world, seen by collective society as the cost of doing business and "growing" the economy.

Except money is just a blip on a chip. It doesn't buy you love or make the rain come.

It's laughable to think about the NSA rummaging through my email. I know what they will find, and they will be so bored. They might roll their eyes a few times. I hope it's somebody that likes flowers and cat antics.

If you'll forgive the cynicism, it isn't going to change. For decades, our economy has been driven by global geopolitics and the machines of war and poverty. Our terror of terror has become a psychotic loop of real and imagined threats, and the arguments of safety versus privacy continue. What fruit does a garden like this bear?

And what would you change about it if you could? My privacy is more likely to be compromised by someone talking out of school than by a hacker. Gossip hurts more people than hackers do. We are not a respectful society so it stands to reason we would not censor ourselves regarding the privacy of others. Only our own information is sacred.

And herein might lay a solution. If I choose to cultivate empathy and compassion, I can change the cynicism to hope. Peace is a force of its own if I choose it. The imprint that matters is the one I make consciously, every day, with my community.

With this attitude, the Internet becomes a tool, albeit one with pitfalls. It beats living in fear and suspicion.

Mary Hart-Detrixhe is a lifelong resident of the prairie and Ellis County. Her work can be found at www.janeQaverage.com.

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