Social Question

CunningLinguist's avatar

Why should I care if a corporation is gathering stores of information about me via the internet?

Asked by CunningLinguist (1744 points ) August 17th, 2011

Google, Facebook, Microsoft—all of them have been accused of amassing vast amounts of information about the people who use their products. It is often treated as a privacy disaster. Why, though, should I care?

I understand that the information is valuable to them when compiled, but it’s not like I could demand a large sum for my individual “contribution” to the database. Besides, I get things in return for my data in the form of free services.

Nor is my personal privacy very much threatened. My name is no more distinct than a string of numbers—and probably less uniquely identifying—as far as Google et al. are concerned. My grocery store is more likely to pick me out from its list of rewards club members than Facebook is to pick me out from its list of users.

What am I missing?

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14 Answers

Qingu's avatar

I don’t care so much that corporations have my information stored somewhere. I care more about how this information is distributed to other parties—and whether it’s protected from being stolen or misused. Your name and phone number may be a string of numbers and anonymous data to Google, but to a phisher it might be pretty valuable as a possible means of identity theft.

I also care less about someone at Google or Facebook seeing my personal data than someone I know personally looking it up and being able to access it without my permission or knowledge. You can mitigate this with layers of privacy settings, but most people don’t, and these companies have tended to make the default privacy option “nothing.”

YARNLADY's avatar

The main purpose is to find ways to make you buy things, so if you are susceptible to advertising, it can be a problem.

The information is also subject to being misused, such as identity theft or your activities being followed by government agencies.

marinelife's avatar

They can definitely pick you out. They have your address, phone number, and email address.

You should care whether they sell your information to others.

You should care whether someone successfully hacks into their databases and steals your identity (Facebook has your date of birth too probably.)

Your should care whether the government subpoenas your information.

CunningLinguist's avatar

Regarding the identity theft issue, I don’t disagree that’s a problem. But (a) that isn’t what most people seem to be worried about when ranting against Google et al., and (b) all of that information is available from sources other than Google et al. (which is why corporate and government sites are targeted just as much as Google or Facebook).

@marinelife I didn’t say they can’t pick me out, I said they are less likely to do so. You tell me I should care, but the question is why. I’ve read a lot of warnings like yours, but I’m looking for the reasons behind them.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Having no credit cards or any assets worth stealing, my identity is probably more safe from theft than those with money or credit cards. I can’t afford to live off the grid.

Hibernate's avatar

At some point you can find yourself deal with a lawsuit of some sort just because your name was in the same list as others. It’s better not to just give away to much info because you never know how others might use them.

marinelife's avatar

@CunningLinguist Identity theft is not a problem for you? Getting tons of unwanted marketing materials is not a problem for you? having the government track what you do or like or buy is not a problem for you?

Blondesjon's avatar

I’ve always worked under the assumption that by simply being online my privacy is being invaded.

There are folks that think that the big sites are telling them the truth about not sharing their shit just because they say they don’t? Guess what, send them my way. Tell them I said I’d on put the head in.

RareDenver's avatar

I’m not so bothered they have my information but more bothered how safe they keep it.

funkdaddy's avatar

I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that’s the OP’s point.

Say you give your information to facebook, the supermarket, your neighbor, or that cute girl at the bar.

Then say someone else gets a hold of that information.

What’s the scary part? Are you posting secrets you don’t want others to know on facebook? Telling your neighbors your SSN and mother’s maiden name? If you’re careful what you give out in the first place, does it matter if google knows your favorite bands and that you search for pasta recipes?

Not arguing for or against, just trying to clarify.

RareDenver's avatar

@funkdaddy I was thinking more about the iTunes, PayPal’s and Amazons of the world, i.e. people I spend money with and people who know where my money is. maybe I didn’t read the question properly That being said, I still spend money with these people, especially Amazon, I love Amazon.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@marinelife I already addressed identity theft. I didn’t say it isn’t a problem, I said that all of that information is available on sites that aren’t the target of these kinds of complaints. Moreover, I am saying that this seems to be a security issue rather than a privacy issue. People complain about Google and Facebook having information about us as if it were independently a bad thing (regardless of whether any hacker ever sees it).

I don’t get a lot of unwanted marketing materials, either. I have an ad blocker, I’m on “do not send” and “do not call” lists, and I know how to set spam filters on my e-mail account. And as for the government, they already have my name, Social Security number, address, etc. Moreover, they could easily get my credit card records to find out what I buy even if Amazon did not exist or refused to hand over my information.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@funkdaddy Yes, you are getting close to my main concern. I agree that these databases may present security issues, but I’m unconvinced that they present any particularly alarming privacy issues.

Jeruba's avatar

I think my post here also amounts to an answer to this question.

I might not much care if someone knows I looked up recipes for egg rolls or shopped for cameras. But suppose I looked up information about meth addiction or pulmonary disease or delved into rehab centers. Suppose I wrote a search query to find out how often cases of elder abuse go undetected or how much money you can transfer in and out of accounts how often without alerting authorities. Suppose I bought products online to conceal embarrassing physical conditions. Suppose I got hooked into some spammer’s scheme. Could I feel compromised if someone chose to publicize and perhaps misinterpret these facts? You bet!

Never mind what you posted on Facebook. What did you put on that insurance form?

We hear about major data security breaches all the time. A book I’m reading right now about cloud computing reminds us that companies with their own data centers make lots of security errors, inevitably, because data security is not their core business. So even if you decide to trust the people to whom you hand over your personal information, you might want to think twice about relying on the integrity of the folks who steal it.

Incidentally, I remember reading somewhere that just about anybody can be pinpointed with a date of birth plus a Zip code.

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