Tuesday, July 5, 2011

They've Been Tracking You for Years...Offline. Is Online Tracking Over-Hyped?

How to Manually Flush a Self-Flushing ToiletImage by ancawonka via Flickr
After writing a post last week about Interactivity & Privacy, I got to thinking about all the ways that we've been tracked offline for years. Here's my list (so far):

  • Supermarket - Discount & loyalty cards allow them to track what I buy, and infer if I have children (diaper purchases!), income level (do I buy the expensive brand or generic), how much beer I consume (let's not go there).
  • Other stores/malls - Images of me, in addition to similar data as above.
  • Hotels - Through cardkey systems they know when I come and go.
  • Credit Cards - What I buy, where I buy, where I geographically am, and a bevy of inferred data from purchases I make as in supermarket example, but much broader.
  • Bank - Income (direct deposit), debt, homeownership, purchase behavior, timeliness of bill paying.
  • Cable TV Company - What I watch, how much I watch, when I watch.
  • Landline Telephone Company - Who, when, and duration of calls, who I call most frequently.
  • Mobile Telephone Company - Same as landline plus where I am geographically located currently, and where I've been. Content of my text messages.
  • Home Security (Alarm) Company - When I'm home/away.
  • Automotive Servicer - How frequently I exceed the speed limit.
  • EZ Pass (highway toll payments) - Where I am, where I've been.
So, it occurs to me that this data far exceeds the amount of data collected about me online. I'm not concerned about privacy to the degree that certain media coverage would have me freaking out. I've had no bad experiences with the above establishments tracking to-date. That said, I'm still a little at ease that many auto-flush public toilets have the ability to track my frequency and duration of use. Thank goodness this data is anonymized and aggregated - just kidding!
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