The end of privacy

The era of privacy is over.

People are saying this so often lately that is almost cliche, but I’m starting to believe it is true.

My recent experience is illustrative and it  has convinced me that privacy is indeed almost a quaint anachronism.

The main instrument in the death of privacy is the Internet.

For example, Google recently announced, to a firestorm of criticism, a new privacy policy that is really an anti-privacy policy. It is “sharing” its data across a wider swath of its “services”.

What does this mean really?

To find out I did a little privacy experiment over the weekend. It involved telescopes. When people think of privacy and telescopes, you imagine someone peering into your window with a telescope, but that’s not what this is about. The peering is being done to us via the Internet.

I’ve long been interested in astronomy, but have never owned a real telescope. So with some true interest at heart, I went to Amazon.com and did some searches for different kinds of telescopes. I didn’t buy anything. Maybe at some point I’ll get a relatively cheap telescope, which sounds fun.

However, via my searching for telescopes on Amazon, I kicked my privacy experiment into motion.

I wondered–just how often would my interest in telescopes on Amazon manifest in other Internet travels that I took?

The results were striking.

Literally a few minutes after my searching for possible telescopes to buy on Amazon, someone on Facebook sent me message so I went on there to read it.

I guess I am naive because I was shocked to find an ad on Facebook popped up for…you guessed it…. telescopes.

Creepy.

Wait aren’t Amazon and Facebook competitors?

I don’t understand how this ad found me, but there it was, a telescope ad. Now days later I’m still seeing ads on Facebook for telescopes.

Sometimes I like to read articles on the website DailyKos and on that day I did my search on Amazon for telescopes, later on I was reading an article on DailyKos when I noticed that there in between two articles was an ad for telescopes.com .

Later that day, I wanted to check traffic so I went to the Sigalert website for the Sacramento area. Hmm, upper right corner was an ad for telescopes.

It continued that way. Telescopes were popping up all over the Internet like stupid comments come pouring out of Rush Limbaugh’s big mouth.

What you’ll find is that Internet companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook as well as others are increasingly keeping tabs on you and they know you very well…too well. They are tailoring ads just for you based on what used to be your private information such as your interests, hobbies, etc.

In addition, even as competitors, they are also intertwined in frightening ways as witnessed by my interest in telescopes on Amazon manifesting in ads on Facebook, Dailykos, Sigalert, and other websites.

Of course you can choose not to use Google and other websites, but if you want to avoid Google entirely you’d have to stop using YouTube, many mapping tools, and a host of other Internet services.

Then again, you can simply stop using the Internet entirely.  Your privacy will be safer, but you’ll be disconnected from the world.

The bottom line seems to be a choice between privacy and being a hermit.

But in a way what we choose to do may not matter as an entire generation is growing up not expecting to have privacy at all. For them, what’s missing when it comes to privacy may be something they do not know they should expect.

2 Comments


  1. I matched for a Hematology residency slot less than a week ago, and without saying anything anywhere, Facebook is already ad-placing me with banners saying “Working with blood? Get your free chart!”. I remembered this post when I saw that.

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