September 28, 2022

Privacy? Someone explain this to me…

A few months ago, at a time when I thought of justified outrage, I completely abandoned the clichéd reservation about what is now a generally accepted intrusion into my privacy. Something that portends further stifling my notion of an acceptable social construct.

Although – pardon the shamelessness – I am a big data expert and a shameless researcher, fueled by an ultimately insane anger, I wanted to know how THIS company stumbled upon THIS set of data on me, at THAT time. Then invaded my privacy to that extent to compel me to fill in THESE numerous fields of data. And finally trying to get me to return my credit card.

For a few decades I was one of the biggest buyers and distributors of direct response media in the United States. And a bit of Europe. Around the time man/woman started walking upright in the dawning era of “big data” was in the late 70’s – early 80’s I created the first base truly interactive multivariate data. Then an industry cracked the predictive modeling mousetrap. The latter remains a foundation for so much in marketing to this day. Certainly with all sorts of modern turbo-boost drivers added. Thanks to all the amazing technologies, essentially data compilation and analysis, developed in the years that followed AND the amazing affordability of manipulating big data.

I get the data acquisition and data mining paradigms. I get the immense power of knowledge, even more so when it is solely focused on individuals rather than market/population segments. And the exploitation of all that.

Back to my recent tantrum… I loudly proclaimed that privacy is essentially when the man/woman started to walk upright. Like for real! Not when we business people started to seriously exploit your privacy. I can start making this case by taking obvious liberties with historical facts and corrupting all that anthropology stuff. I can make a much better case by citing advances in data acquisition and use over the past ten years.

The only relevance to my tantrum was the fact, I say, that there are now virtually no safety nets – dare I say moral safety nets – to data acquisition. Certainly none to unbridled use. Operation.

Much of this data is served up unwittingly by the subjects from whom it is collected. Some, perhaps a large part, are what I have called “synthetic data”, derived from corollaries, auxiliaries, inferred from one or more of the many relevant attributes of trillion relevant data, some consisting of fabric world, all made possible by the capacity and opportunity for massive data analysis.

And the totally thoughtless disregard for privacy. This is from a guy who might have written “privacy policies”… Definitely reviewed a bunch, for some companies whose names will be recognized by many readers.

A few snippets…

A mobile application I created can feed a “data warehouse” for location identifiers. The data warehouse is augmented in real time with data from too many sources to name. Its designers and managers claim some 300,000 mobile applications among them! Super slick tricks to locate our users location. It can often be more reliable than regular GPS, when challenged by cloud cover or a downed satellite. In any event, these provide a “general” localization. Ours spirits forbid you from being buried under tons of rubble in what used to be this apartment building that collapsed in an earthquake, kinda helps in being able to locate where in the old building . To identify roughly exactly where in this dormitory – again, spirits forbid – a female student is in peril. Not the street address of the dorm complex! Without digressing with that, the possibility of coed-in-peril, no, tragically likely, was my initial impetus for creating the mobile security app I built.

Most weekday mornings between eight and nine, a few of the same people stop by the Starbucks at the Glen Center in Bel Air, California. Coffee, jaw and wait for the LA Canyon traffic to clear up. If I’m in that mall, the location finder will claim I’m at Starbucks or really close due to the usual morning crowds there with their mobile devices ringing! Not just the street address according to the GPS, which is the mall.

Same with a dormitory – spirits forbid – a student could be in it.

Imagine an ordinary data query: who owns this car parked in the parking lot of an industrial complex somewhere in Orange County, California. The only information provided to the request are: brand, model, color, address. Two minutes after the buzz of a few rounds, the likely owner appears on one of the monitors. Me.

Then the fun begins. How? Among the many data points crushed by the sophisticated machine, I had unwittingly provided the key! A year earlier, the owner of a vehicle of this make and model had overdue a toll on a short stretch of highway through Orange County. Miles from this parking lot. Mine.

Just to firmly put this proverbial horse in the glue factory, humbly, I know a little about this. Also, on mobile devices, especially Samsungs, iPhones and BlackBerrys. Incidentally, I still own a Blackberry, with features that make it one of the few ever configured. It is properly stored…I know for sure [oh yeah??] that I have disabled all communications to any cloud service on my Galaxy s10+. Neither of my geeky friends and I could think of any way my Galaxy could communicate with the outside without this happening. It never backs up or stores anything in a cloud or weather system.

For fun, after backing up my galaxy to a laptop, wired – this laptop doesn’t back up to any cloud storage, I went to a Verizon store in West LA, talked to a young man about the loss disaster of all my contacts. [I had deleted the contacts folder at the root of the thing. Honest.] A hmmm gasp later he asked if he could play with my laptop. About seven minutes later, he returned it with a “there you are, sir.” All there.”

A miracle.

Nice kid, so no anger on my part.

If you know otherwise, please don’t burst my bubble here.


Written by Steven J. Manning.
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