Privacy worries? Snooping by Feds least of your concerns


Of late, there has been much hue and cry about the government’s National Security Agency collecting data on millions of phone calls and e-mails of private citizens.

While these intrusions are viewed by some as inexcusable violations of personal privacy and by others as just more freedoms ceded in the name of national security, the government’s collection of information pales in comparison to private sector entities that not only have amassed enormous amounts of data about your personal life — they make it available to anyone who’ll pay their price.

And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet: As technology continues to leapfrog, the ability of these entities, both private and governmental, to know what you do, when and where you do it, and with whom you do it will only increase.

Data mining and data analysis are now multi-billion-dollar businesses. If you want a couple tip-of-the-iceberg clues as to how much is known about you, obtain the free credit reports you’re allowed once a year (be sure to use the government-approved website, not one of the many look-alikes that charge for the service). Every payment you’ve made (or not made), every mortgage payment, etc., is there. And the info they provide in these reports is only a fraction of the details about you (good and bad) that they can make available to those who pay for their services.

Buy a license plate for your vehicle or get a driver’s license and chances are your state will sell that info to anyone who wants to target you with a vehicle-related sales pitch. Purchase something from a mail order catalog and soon you’ll get more catalogs from other firms to whom your info has been sold. Even death records become data fodder to be peddled for targeted sales pitches.

If you want samples of what people can find out about you for free, go to Spokeo or Scriptimax and type in your name (or anyone else's) and address and see what comes up. The latter not only shows an aerial shot of the address but shows who all the neighbors are. And this is just a fraction of the info that's available on these and many other sites — if you want to pay their price.

If you use either of the leading free e-mail services, GMail or Yahoo Mail, every message you send or receive is scanned for keywords by their computers, and ads are tailored accordingly. Confide to a friend that you have toenail fungus, and an ad pops up offering a curative. Daydream about a cruise to Fiji, and an ad for South Pacific vacations will magically appear. Facebook can track everything you do on the Web — even if you’re logged out, it can still track your browsing history.

The cyber wizards at MIT have come up with an interesting program, Immersion, that will show, in graphic form, your entire e-mail history: everyone with whom you’ve ever communicated and their ranking … plus (and this is the type of info of particular interest to government snoops), relationships that may exist between any of those senders/recipients. [It only works with GMail and Yahoo Mail.] Check it out here.


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