Is Privacy an Illusion?

By opensourceway, via Flickr

Recently I had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend from college. She’s one of those very intelligent people who really educate themselves about an issue and think it through before forming an opinion. A conversation with her really challenges you to think about why you believe what you do. It’s a quality in a friend that I really respect and enjoy. While we discussed privacy, she asserted that privacy is actually an illusion, that we never really had true privacy and things haven’t changed that much. That prompted me to think long and hard about the issue. I’ve come to the conclusion that I disagree with her, but I think I can now articulate my reason a bit more clearly. (Thanks, Julie!)

As I’ve said before, I refuse to get a store loyalty card of any sort. I object to having the corporation tracking my buying behavior. She made the point that anytime you are a regular of a store and the people there get to know you, they will point out if they get insomething new they think you might like in hopes that you will buy it. Over time, they learn your buying patterns and will direct you to other products. That’s true. The woman at the produce stand in Belgium where I bought fruit and vegetables for over 6 years would tell me that the strawberries had come in and were very good in the hope that I would buy some. But she would also let me know that the clementines were coming to the end of the season and weren’t good any more. Somehow I don’t see Food Lion guiding me away from buying something.

By Gordon Joly via Flickr

To take it further, large retail corporations are not really interested in providing products that we want. They are much more interested in convincing us that we want the products they sell. They use the information they collect for marketing and advertising. Selection in many stores has actually decreased. Unless you go to a specialty store, your options for things like irons or mixers are far fewer than a few years ago.

My local shop owner also did not store my information and was not going to sell it to someone else. I didn’t end up on a mailing list for a completely different company. And no one was going to break into a database to get my private information for identity theft or credit card fraud (something that did happen to us at a supposedly secure site of a major airline).

So I think I’ll stick to my guns on this issue. I won’t break down and “sell” my information to a huge corporation for a few grocery discouts and I won’t give retailers my phone number at the cash register when I make a purchase. They don’t need that information. But I’m lucky that we are well off enough that I can afford to give up those extra discounts. Not everyone has that option. We all need to think carefully and decide for ourselves what value we put on our privacy.


About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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