I like to think I'm protective of my sensitive personal info. I rip bills and credit card offers into confetti before throwing them out, I never give out my Social Security number, and I can spot a phishing scheme with the best of them. But I've recently come to realize that the safeguarding of my most intimate personal details is completely out of my hands.
This rather foregone epiphany dawned on me recently after I received a letter in the mail from a former employer offering me a year of free credit protection. The gift of an incredibly generous HR department? No. This was my consolation prize for having my Social Security number and street address stolen when some thieves made off with company computers.
Being exposed to the threat of identity theft through the carelessness of a former employer got me thinking: Who else out there has the goods on me, and what say do I have in all of this? The answer, of course, is that my personal information is being collected, stored and used in more places than I care to think about. As for my rights to that info -- well, I have none.
This needs to change.
I don't think I'm blowing anyone's mind when I say that information about all of us is being gathered, aggregated, and analyzed with nearly every step we take, both online and off. I'm not paranoid -- this is a fact of life. Whether it's at the supermarket, passing through a tollbooth, using our cell phones, or checking our email, notes are being taken down about our locations, our habits, our preferences, and our relationships to people, places, and things. That's the price we pay for modern conveniences, and I've accepted the tradeoff. I could fly under the radar by always paying cash, never using a cell phone, staying off the Internet, and having my bills sent to a P.O. box, but I can't be bothered.
In many cases the information being gathered on me makes my life easier -- Amazon.com being the very best example of this. I love my Wish List, I find the recommendations to be fairly accurate (most of the time), and I like that little sidebar that reminds me of the things I've recently viewed.
I'm sure it's the same over at Google, where my extensive history of Web searches -- no matter how freaky -- is directly linked to my name and other information, thanks to my Gmail account. What if I decide one day that I'm done with Google -- can I take that information with me? Can I have my emails deleted from the Google system? Of course not.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.