Guy W. Farmer: Internet privacy, an oxymoron

I believe in the right of privacy, and that's why I don't blog or tweet, or maintain a Facebook page. After all, you really don't need to know what my cat had for breakfast.

I'm probably in the minority, however, as more and more people reveal more and more personal information on the World Wide Web, allowing assorted weirdos, perverts and hackers to target them with their nefarious schemes and scams. Well, if you want to participate in those Internet games, be my guest. As for me, no thanks!

When I retired from the Foreign Service in 1995 Washington techies were telling us that computers would soon replace people at our overseas outposts. That hasn't happened yet but in some places computerized USA kiosks have replaced American diplomats. My question is this: Would you rather interact with a machine, or with an actual person?

Time magazine recently published a cover story on Internet privacy, summarizing the core issue as follows: "Every detail of your life - what you buy, where you go, whom you love - is being extracted from the Internet, bundled and traded by data-mining companies," while hackers can use "geo-tagging" to find out where you live. Scary!

According to Time, these data-mining companies compile your personal information and sell it to marketers and spammers who target you with a barrage of online "deals" and offers.

"There is now an enormous multibillion-dollar industry based on the collection and sale of personal and behavioral data," Time revealed, adding that Congress is considering legislation that would require data-miners to protect your information from hackers, allow you to inspect everything they have on you, and permit you to opt out of being tracked.

As Time's Joel Stein wrote, "Right after I e-mailed a friend in Texas that I might be coming to town, a suggestion for a Houston restaurant ... popped up in my Gmail inbox."

That's how cyber-tracking works, and it gets worse. For example, unless you opt out (which is tricky), Google can share your personal information with people who want to sell you stuff you don't want or need in accordance with Google's stated mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Think about it. Do you want your personal information to be "universally accessible" to online marketers? I don't and that's why I might sign up with, which will work to keep hackers and trackers off my Internet browser for $8.25 per month.

An even more ominous aspect of the Internet privacy debate is that our enemies, like WikiLeaks' Julian Assange or the Iranians, can put countless lives at risk through the dissemination of thousands of stolen, classified diplomatic cables. The respected Christian Science Monitor opined as follows: "Policymakers, diplomats and military officials must harness the Internet's profound possibilities while managing its capabilities to destroy innocent people and harm democracies throughout the world."

That's a tremendous challenge, one that President Obama and Congress should address before it's too late.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is highly suspicious of so-called "social media."


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