Mind Your Own Business

Reprinted from Loose Change (TCBMag.com)

“Oh, the woman on our party line’s the nosiest thing, she picks up her receiver when she knows it’s my ring.”—Hank Williams

 . . . listening to my favorite radio station yesterday hoping for some perspectives on the presidential debate . . . lucky me . . . what I got instead was the just-released recordings of the 911 calls made from Accent Signage while crazed killer Andrew Engeldinger was slaughtering six innocent coworkers. Yum.

My first reaction was, “This isn’t news, it’s porn.” My second reaction was, “What’s next? Recordings of deathbed words and gasps of people in hospice care?” It can’t be far behind.

For me, it’s a decency and a privacy issue. Not everything is fair game.

If someone told you that every conversation you have on your cellphone is being monitored, what would you say? My guess is that you’d freak out. This is the stuff of conspiracy and Big Brother nightmares. So . . . why are you lying down like a submissive puppy when it comes to the rampant surveillance that occurs every second of every day on your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet searches?

Either you don’t much care if a peeping Tom is peering into your private life, or you do. I fall into the latter camp. According to a recent New York Times article, there are thousands of companies “out there,” like Dell, Intel, Visa, Verizon, and Wal-Mart, that want desperately for you not to care, and they are prepared to spend millions to make sure your congressional representatives don’t pull the plug on what has become one of the hottest industries in the world: your personal and private information.

Ironically, browsers like Mozilla and Internet Explorer offer users an opt-out on personal data gathering that gives you the option of disallowing full access to every move you make in the digital space. Indeed, these browsers have the opt-out option as the default on their systems. If you choose to allow your personal data to be tracked and used as a marketing tool, you have to agree to do so.

This of course makes the most sense, yet advertiser associations and even some members of Congress are up in arms about it, in spite of the fact that three out of four computer users indicate they don’t want to have their information and digital behaviors made available to marketers. Why would you? Who in their right mind would want their illnesses, sexual orientation, political leanings, musical tastes, family, marital and occupational status, even comments made in e-mails, Twitter, and Facebook posts known to commercial interests?

Some may insist that we already have adequate regulations surrounding privacy. HUH-UH. Try something as simple as blocking ads on Facebook. It’s nigh on impossible. Now consider taking away full access to your personal data, something that is currently available to the tech and media industries. With as contentious as this issue is, it will most certainly require an act of Congress. Just as smoking on airplanes, ending child labor practices, and giving blacks and women the right to vote did.

You deserve the right to prevent your every move on the Internet from becoming a data set on some marketer’s promotion strategy. You deserve the right not to have your chemo treatments or the loss of a family member turn into an ad for wigs or cremation services. Thank you, Microsoft, for leading the way in protecting our privacy. This battle will be a major test to see just how effective the digital and media communities are in spending enough money to prevent the protection of our privacy rights. Keep an eye on this one.

Editor’s Note: Gary Johnson is President of MSP Communications in Minneapolis, MN and authors the blog Loose Change for TCBmag.com.