Privacy is Dead, Get Over it

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Last week the Huffington Post reported that Verizon is selling customers’ cell phone data. There’s no hiding from data collection. Nothing ever gets deleted. Nobody can expect to exist in the modern world without having your personal data sold for targeting by advertisers. Privacy is dead. Does this surprise you?

The cell phone data that is “anonymous and aggregated” and quite possibly sold to the highest bidders is “the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location and amount of use of the telecommunications services you purchase,” according to Verizon’s terms. While users can exercise an opt-out policy, in which they can elect to stop Verizon from sharing data, they can only do so within 30 days of activating a new smartphone. Other carriers like AT&T have a similar opt-out policy but do not yet sell user data to third party companies.

Technology has accelerated the speed at which vast amounts of private information can be obtained and the cell phone is the game changer for this level of  sneaky access. Take Facebook for example. More than one billion people around the world routinely reveal photos and details about their daily lives on Facebook which monetizes the ability to connect to our personal information. However Facebook goes beyond mining and analyzing your profile data and your updates you have shared. USA Today revealed how Facebook tracks you across the internet. Facebook inserts a ‘tracking cookie’ into your browser that allows them to track each website you are visiting. Not only does this mean they know all about you, the user, they also know all the websites and content you are viewing outside of Facebook.The same goes for Google, Amazon, Twitter, Pinterest, Foursqure, and countless other companies to an extent. Companies like Intuit are sitting on a goldmine of high quality information from our tax returns which they can monetize by simple aggregation and segmentation.

The controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that passed the House by a wide margin in April, now appears to be dead in the Senate. While heavily supported by tech, finance, and telecom firms the bill faced stiff opposition from privacy groups, internet activists, and ultimately President Obama who threatened to veto the bill.  Major tech companies including AT&T, Verizon, Intel, HP, Time Warner Cable, IBM, Comcast, McAfee, Oracle, Google and Facebook liked CISPA because it lets them off the hook. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CISPA is written broadly enough to permit communications service or cloud storage providers to share emails, text messages, files, and content with the government, without having to anonymize the data, trumping existing consumer contracts and privacy laws.

Is there hope for a return to private lives in simpler times?