Faking It: Did I Cover My Tracks Well Enough?
I just happened to be at a conference this week dedicated to privacy, security and assessing risk in data flows, and casually heard stories from privacy-minded folks on some of the lengths they go to to “cover” their tracks online, in mobile, on cameras and in other activities in the virtual and physical worlds.
It reminded me of Ram Avrahami – who lost a celebrated court case exactly 20 years ago. In that instance, Mr. Avrahami, a U.S. News and World Report subscriber, intentionally changed the spelling of his name on his subscription to see how his name and address were pandered by the publisher, and then called out the magazine for not honoring his name suppression request (based on his actual spelling). Moral of the story: you can’t thwart industry privacy self-regulation practices and then call out the industry for not being responsive to your privacy concerns.
Then, there’s my own subscription to Elle Décor. Through no fault of mine, I’ve been known to Hearst Publishing as “Hester Dalzell” (a data entry error on their part that I never bothered to fix). Probably like Ram Avrahami before me, I take heightened interest in who happens to send direct mail to me as “Hester.” Simply an indication of who is renting or exchanging the Elle Décor subscription list.
Unlike my privacy friends, however, I hardly ever opt out of anything. I may be the one of the last Americans not on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call list.
It also makes me think of today’s digital and mobile “cover ups” equivalents — ad blockers, use of private browsers, laptop camera covers, photo masking and encryption, among a host of others. Some of these may be more illusory when it comes to clearing our tracks than they actually are. And who really knows how much or how little privacy we have when it comes to government spying, hacking and surveillance?