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Naked_Whale_Tamer's avatar

If you had to make a decision, would you allow the NSA or many for profit private companies (e.g., Google, ad trackers) to watch all of your activities?

Asked by Naked_Whale_Tamer (400points) February 1st, 2014

If you had the ability to choose, which entity was to know every activity you engaged in (what you post or read, what you buy, where you go and when, who you call, what you say, know your medical and financial details): the NSA or the vast number of companies that accumulate data from public records, your internet activity, your location via GPS, etc.

Remember, saying none of the above is not an option. But what if you had the ability to choose one?

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19 Answers

chewhorse's avatar

In reality I would over-ride your disclaimer and still choose (3) None of the above but since it’s an (A) or (B) question, I would rather have the private sector snoop on my buying habits rather than the NSA sniffing my butt hairs.. I could tolerate some personal ads trying to sell me a new, improved back scratcher or some do-dad that I have no use for rather than a covert entity questioning my patriotism by one silly word I may had spewed under duress or anger with some dip-wad who refuses to listen to both sides of a story.

flutherother's avatar

A private company preferably. All they are interested in is selling me something. Annoying, but not dangerous.

Blondesjon's avatar

Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

ragingloli's avatar

You are asking me to choose between being mauled by a bear, or being ripped to shreds by a shark.
This question can not be answered.

Naked_Whale_Tamer's avatar

@chewhorse and @ragingloli

If you don’t think you’re being tracked, install ‘Ghostery’. It’s a Firefox add-on that lists (and optionally blocks) web tracking bugs. Some sites have over a dozen web bugs that track how long you spend on a tab (or page).

Have a look at the number of cookies in your browser.
If you have a cell phone, there’s a GPS in the device that reveals your current location within 10 feet.

Sorry to disillusion you, but you don’t have a choice. You’re already being tracked by the NSA and a plethora of companies.

My question was hypothetical in that if you could (you really don’t) have the ability to select one or the other, which would you choose.

bolwerk's avatar

I’ve converted as many of my communications to SSL/TLS as possible.

MadMadMax's avatar

I’m a user. I know nothing about computers so I’m set up as a non-admin user.

It prevents software being installed on my system without my knowledge and neiither me or any “software” can makes ANY changes to my system without having the administrator’s password.

I do what I can do. But I’m fully aware that I really have no privacy left.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Naked_Whale_Tamer I have Ghostery and it was shocking to see how many trackers were placed on my pc by reputable companies. That was eye opening. I have also added Lightbeam (which used to be called Collusion.).

If I had to be tracked by only one I’d take the NSA. Unlike google, the fact that there are so many crooked spammers and telemarketers blatantly operating every day tells me the NSA does nothing with their data.

Turn off your ad blocker and privacy software and google the word pregnancy or baby or diapers and you will start getting crap ads for baby supplies. Google scares me more than the NSA.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

The NSA. Every company on the planet wants my money, if only they can get it. I don’t have/do/say anything the NSA cares about.

funkdaddy's avatar

The law applies to private companies. If they screw you over, break the law, or just piss off enough people,you have some recourse.

The NSA just has to repeatedly say that revealing what they know would endanger national security and their cases get dismissed.

I would much rather google knew my every move than the NSA.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@funkdaddy I thought that way at first but then realized how many ways private companies can misuse my info. They can leak it or it can be stolen and scammers can misuse my credit info.
I get about 2 scam phone calls per day. (My business gets a similar number from scammers wanting to help me get “no bid contracts with the government”.) If I look up some information on Google such as, “prostate cancer”, they can forward that fact to insurance companies for a fee and the insurance company can raise my rates a few tenth of a percent. If I do a lot of research on the subject, the rate can continue to climb figuring I have it. IfI look up treatments they can raise my rates even more.
Google can track if I am researching alcoholism or liver cancer and pass that to a potential employer I happen to be considering for employment. The potential employer can pay Google for the reports and decide to not interview me. How would I know it happened?
If I research vacation spots, cruises. or best rates for plane tickets and that info can be added to a list stored on a Tor enabled site website. Thieves can pay for the data with bitcoins and know the best time to enter my house.
That is how commercial users can get it wrong.

The NSA has the info already and what do they do with it? Nothing that I can see. The scammers still keep calling and thieves still keep misusing our credit cards.

funkdaddy's avatar

@LuckyGuy – I guess I think of one as a possible inconvenience and the other as the end of privacy all together. Google isn’t selling your information to scammers, but if they were, the worst case scenario is something along the lines of a credit report now. Someone could purchase your google report, see what you’ve been up to, and judge your individual worthiness for a particular offer. If someone was shown to have accessed your medical information, or made a decision using it, that person and the person who provided access to the information would be prosecutable under HIPAA.

In private companies there is a check on what they can do. People moan all the time about punishments for violations not being severe enough, but usually the punishment isn’t about retribution, it’s about making the practice stop. Google’s theoretical “we sell your search history” business model would be shut down.

The worst case scenario of the government holding complete access to everything we do through current communication mediums is literally the loss of your privacy and possibly your freedom, without you ever knowing why. I’m not trying to speak in hyperbole, I think that’s truly what we’re talking about.

Different people hold different laws to be inexcusable. With current surveillance, if that person gains access to the storehouse of information, then their morals will tell them that the information should be used to weed out whatever evil they see in the world. If you’re on the wrong side, even though you haven’t been caught lawfully, and even if most people wouldn’t consider you wrong, you can have your freedom and property taken and they will never tell you how you were caught.

I don’t think there’s any question at this point that the NSA is sharing information beyond it’s intended use, and that use was fighting terrorism from non-citizens.

There is evidence to suggest they’ve shared information with the DEA and that a policy of parallel construction exists so that this would never be public in court.

It also appears that information is shared with IRS as well. Better keep those expense reports clean, you know.

Tomorrow it may be playing online poker, or downloading songs off the internet, or teaching evolution.

Meanwhile they keep lying about the effectiveness of the program so they can keep it going.

You may think it’s not a big deal. Lawbreakers should be caught, and I guess that’s all we have proof of right now. Using information illegally to catch people who break the law, against the intent of our courts and constitution.

But what if whoever is in control of that information decides they don’t like a new political candidate that is gaining momentum and a following? Does he/she have any skeletons in their closet? Perhaps they had a nasty split with an ex, or a bridge got closed when it shouldn’t have, maybe your dog rode on the roof in 1983. God forbid you ever had sex with someone the public wouldn’t approve of.

How would we know if the original information for those stories came from someone who wanted to end a career?

To make it a little less vague, imagine Colin Powell didn’t run because he had sex with someone other than his wife, and someone had proof of it via email. Can you see him agreeing not to run rather than drag his family and wife through drama that he created? Is that ok?

So while the NSA isn’t knocking on your door. The government having access to every bit of information that travels any piece of the internet and not having to face any meaningful review or repercussions regarding the use of that information is extremely troubling.

And I’m an American citizen, I can’t even imagine how the rest of the world feels.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@funkdaddy Great reply. I hear you, but from where I sit, I’ve not seen any example of how the NSA used or shared my data. Telemarketers still keep ringing my phone and almost every day we learn of a credit card scheme or stolen credit data. Yet we rarely, if ever, hear of anyone getting caught.

Regarding medical records. Sure, HIPAA info is supposed to be controlled and misuse is illegal. But what about our search records? That is the thing that we have no control over and would/will be very profitable for the next CEO of Google. Insurance companies and potential employers could use that info secretly to make decisions against you. MetLife (for example) does not need to say why they decided to raise my health insurance rates. They could be basing the decision on my googling of “cervical cancer”. A small programming script written by a couple of the talented people here could do the adjustment automatically with the following rules: Looking up trigger words fewer than 5 times – make no adjustment, Look up trigger words more than 5 times – begin raising rates by 0.1% for every time the words are entered and the website is visited for more than 1 minute. the trigger words could be “Cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, Christian fundamentalism, ....” Anything. Two guys in particular could do it with a grease monkey script. (initials JP and a certain Epro) —(errors are intentional.)
A private company can do a lot of damage with our own info and we have no recourse. Snowden published NSA info. Why hasn’t that happened with Google? Because they pay well, hire great employees, and the result would surprise no one. We already know they scan your emails and post “targeted ads” based upon the words you type in your email. Note, I said: THEY SCAN YOUR EMAIL. Not just the meta data. Try it. Write an email to a friend about vacationing in Cancun. Turn on Ghostery and see the trackers. You will start getting targetted ads for resorts. Yep, Google scares me more than the NSA.

I’ll give you a real world, first person example – me. A couple of years ago I casually used a search engine to look for a particular type of sensor material I needed for work. I used yahoo which was connected with alibaba, owned by a chinese company. Remember, I never gave out my info. I was only searching. Within days I started getting emails from chinese companies offering to sell me material. This is specialized stuff – not something used by a casual customer. Coincidence? No way. They spent the time tracking me down. I did not make my search so specific so they couldn’t tell what I was doing. But they were looking. I got emails like you would get if you were playing 20 questions: Is it land sea or air? Is it animal vegetable or mineral?
The NSA knowing what I do, does not matter to my company. A chinese group dedicated to snooping and sniffing our search engine requests can put technical companies out of business.
I feel sorry for the poor slave wagers, laboring over our search engine histories. Don’t tell them but the stuff is all BS. ;-)

Key Words: “synthetic elephant tusk material used for prostate replacement” “low temperature flexible ceramic” “6 axis Helmholz resonators” “Lead Zirconium Titanate PZT-137”

LuckyGuy's avatar

Interesting and timely article in Scientific American online today.
When Big Data Marketing Becomes Stalking

Just grabbing an excerpt:
“In another recent example Mike Seay, a customer of OfficeMax, received a letter from the company that had the words “Daughter Killed in Car Crash” printed on the outside of the envelope following his name. He had not shared this information with OfficeMax. The company stated that it was an error caused by a “mailing list rented through a third-party provider.”

Clearly this was a mistake, but it was a revealing one. Why was OfficeMax harvesting details about the death of a child in the first place? What limits, if any, will businesses set with our data if this was deemed fair game? OfficeMax has not explained why it bought this list or how much personal data it contains, but we do know that third-party data brokers sell all manner of information to businesses, including “police officers’ home addresses, rape sufferers, and genetic disease sufferers” as well as suspected alcoholics and cancer and HIV/AIDS patients.”

funkdaddy's avatar


Understood and I keep typing responses here and then decide not to because I don’t really want to defend business and you end up defending government. Obviously both are a misuse of trust and shouldn’t be done just because they are possible. We’re almost in agreement.

I couldn’t read your linked story unfortunately, it looks like their site is down right now, but will try later.

There are simple ways to explain how stories like yours and the one you quoted here happen. Mostly just be conscious that any link you click will tell the next site where you came from. Also, Yahoo owns a good piece of Alibaba, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they share more information than most. Alibaba has shown they have a different set of morals when it comes to that information.

Ultimately for me it comes down to whether I want spend my time working against inappropriate advertising or inappropriate use of the law and a unjust consolidation of power.

I would also just ask the simple question that if google, yahoo, microsoft, or any other private company was performing the level of surveillance and consolidation that the NSA is doing, and that was reveled, would the company survive the fallout?

chewhorse's avatar

Naked_Whale_Tamer.. “Sorry to disillusion you, but you don’t have a choice. You’re already being tracked by the NSA and a plethora of companies. My question was hypothetical in that if you could (you really don’t) have the ability to select one or the other”..

Ah! But we weren’t disillusioned, we answered the question under the same guise as it was given.. We all know we’re being watched, that’s not new information but you said, “If you had the ability to choose” which in itself gave us this ability and we chose so this was our choice without having to know we have no choice (other than disposing of our computers, cell phones and GPS devices)..

LuckyGuy's avatar

@funkdaddy Actually I think we are in agreement. Neither is a good option but the OP did not give us the choice.
Here is the shortened version of the question: “If you had the ability to choose, which entity….the NSA or the vast number of companies that accumulate data from public records, your internet activity, your location via GPS, etc. which (would) you choose?
Remember, saying none of the above is not an option.”

That is why I picked the NSA. Supposedly they are already recording everything and, so far, they have proven to be ineffective at stopping: credit card fraud, telemarketing, stock price manipulation, bit coin theft, and who knows what else.
The commercial companies are already doing damage: with variable pricing based on income and search history, telemarketing, product push, advertisements, weekly data breaches, And yet we still use Google to see what is on sale at Target.

NanoNano's avatar

I would choose a company that I would know was on the verge of bankruptcy or being shut down by the government for any of several reasons.

Any company soon to go out of business, with all its data stores purged permanently.

There, I didn’t say “none of the above.”

LuckyGuy's avatar

Only commercial companies would be low enough to sell rape victim information for 7.9 cents per name.

I rest my case.

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