Pondering Privacy

“This website stores cookies on your device. These cookies are used to improve your browsing experience and to provide more personalized service to you–both on this site and through other sources. To find out more about this policy, see our Privacy Policy.”

Paragraphs like the one above are ubiquitous across the Web. At least someone had the decency to require such notifications be posted, even if they are in barely visible fine-print. I want to talk to the person who named the tiny files that are placed into our computers, “cookies”. Whenever I come across mention of Internet cookies, I visualize fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. I bet other people think of crispy baked treats, too.

The cookies seem innocuous because they allow websites to “customize” our browsing experience. They save our “preferences” for future visits to websites. That may be well and good on the surface. If a little cookie verifies who I am each time I visit Facebook, then I don’t have to log on each time if I choose not to log out.

The trouble is, some cookies store browsing history about goods and services available to consumers. For instance, I was curious about a particular type of snow thrower and if it could be practical for my needs. I found a website that reviewed snow throwers and read the reviewer’s remarks. I determined that the particular snow thrower is unsuitable for my needs. Then I closed the review site’s page.

From then on, advertising for snow throwers and snow blowers have appeared on most pages I now visit. These ads have been showing up for three months running. Regardless of whether I visit a news site or certain blogs, I am hounded by snow thrower advertising. This annoyance works for other products, too.

I know there are work-arounds to limit the targeting abilities of many cookies, but why should we have to go to extra bother just to keep from being bothered by unwanted, targeted advertising? Apple Computer’s CEO Tim Cook once said, “Our own information is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. Every day, billion of dollars change hands and countless decisions are made on the basis of our likes and dislikes…. These scraps of data, each one, harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold.”

So, this “minor” invasion of my privacy was good for business. The fact that I simply inquired about a particular type of snow thrower means that I’ll be hounded about snow throwers for days, weeks, and months on end unless I take special measures to hunt for the particular cookie and delete it.

Yet, such advertising is the least problematic form of privacy violation. Your personal information is not necessarily private, even if you don’t use the Internet. Corporations and governments are allowed to collect and retain information about us. This is legally allowed under provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment regarding unreasonable searches and seizures. Such collection and storage was deemed legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case, United States v. Jones. The Court stated that the Fourth Amendment does NOT bar ALL seizures. It bars only unreasonable ones. Hence, the Government’s metadata collection policy has been deemed reasonable as a result of the outcome of that case.

Furthermore, personal information is not absolutely guaranteed internationally. The “Five Eyes” international coalition of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States states, “Privacy laws must prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference, but privacy is not absolute. It is an established principle that appropriate government authorities should be able to seek access to otherwise private information when a court or independent authority has authorized such access based on established legal standards.”

The Internet of Things taps into our privacy each time we access it. For example: If you have two smart devices you use regularly like a smart phone and a laptop computer, you’ve created at least two storage areas. When the third parties you visit acquire copies of data, the number of storage areas exponentially multiplies. We cannot control how and whether or not third parties use and safeguard our data in other, associated storage areas. One third party breach opens you up to still more legal and privacy risks. If you have smart appliances, your refrigerator adds yet another dimension to this problem.

Cyber security is only one major concern regarding privacy matters. It’s important to build and maintain boundaries in other areas of one’s life, too.

Most of my life has been spent in the public sphere. This has been primarily as a media worker and broadcaster. To a different extent, this applies to blogging. I have always kept most areas of my private life, private. Despite precautions to cover my tracks, the scariest aspect about working in the public eye is the invasion of privacy.

Even when I mention my friends, cohorts, colleagues, and acquaintances, I never mention their surnames. In instances when a friend has an unusual first name, I choose a fictitious first name for that individual. I’m mindful that identifying a friend or acquaintance by their full name would be a serious breach of privacy.

We people innocently share information either on social media, or off-line in regular daily conversation or doing conventional business with others. We do many things and converse about many different topics. These activities are of great interest to corporations, governments, and worst of all, criminals. Nobody is fully immune to invasion of privacy. It pays to be mindful of setting and protecting personal boundaries in every sense.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Canadian-American actor and comedian, Tom Green. “How can we be free when we are prisoners to social media, in a world without privacy? How can we be free when our every movement is tracked and every conversation is recorded and can easily be held against us? How exactly are we free if we are tethered to our cell phones?”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Controversy, cultural highlights, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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