Is privacy an illusion in the Digital Age?
2 new reports underscore extent to which our personal data is collected
It's hard to read this Washington Post article, about an ongoing American government program to collect and store the personal information of Americans, and then this Wall Street Journal article on how smartphone apps are collecting user data and sharing them with companies, and not wonder if privacy is gone forever.
[ Related: Smartphone apps are betraying us, report says ]
From the Washington Post:
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.
The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
If that doesn't give pause to even the most ardent apologists ("If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about") of what clearly are Big Brother tactics, try this:
The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously.
So a "fellow citizen" who believes you may be "acting suspiciously" might be able to get your name into a U.S. government database -- and let's call it what it is, a Database of Suspicious People -- that is accessible by both military investigators and local law enforcement officials across the country. And which, as we know in the Age of WikiLeaks, can become public.
Meanwhile, the WSJ reports:
An examination of 101 popular smartphone "apps"—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.
Again, we're being tracked, evaluated, counted and cataloged. Ostensibly without our knowledge, but primarily with our tacit approval. Because many of us figure giving up a bit of privacy is well worth the trade-off for enjoying the full benefits of the mobile/digital/Internet era, just as many of us conclude we have to give up some of our freedoms in order to safeguard against more major terrorist attacks.
But as the Post and WSJ articles underscore, most of us are unaware of the extent to which our private and personal information is being collected and shared by government and private industry. And much of it happens when you use the Internet or a mobile device. Or maybe I should say, when the Internet or a mobile device uses you.
Overall, I find all of this unsettling. How about you readers? Anyone comfortable with the kinds of practices described above? Anyone think this kind of data collection is a gross abuse of privacy rights? Feel free to comment below.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.