Your Privacy Is Long Gone

We can minimize our exposure but not prevent it...

When I was one of the first male Bell System switchboard operators in the early seventies I worked on a cordboard before Automatic Number Identification (ANI). This meant when we plugged into a circuit and answered "operator" and when someone asked for a long distance call, we filled out the information on IBM scan cards by filling in the bubbles. We only knew what Central Office they were calling from and not their individual number and had to ask "What is your number please?" Sometimes this was answered with "I have a nonpublished (unlisted) number" or "That's an invasion of my privacy" especially if it was a collect call or being billed to a credit card or another number. In classic Bell Operator fashion I would reply "Your privacy is long gone. What is the number your calling from in order for me to complete this call?" End of discussion, I had a job to do.

Although people were rightfully suspicious of AT&T since it was then the largest corporation in the world, they still had delusions about their privacy. The reality was the company had ways of tracking them and the number they were calling from if you gave an incorrect number to us. There was an entire Fraud division of the company that had a wide variety of ways to figure it out through both sleuthing and technological means that rivaled the FBI.

The difference between now and then is the mechanisms for tracking us have grown more sophisticated. In those days Direct Mail advertisers (junk mail) had more information on people than they realized. That was the analog world and all that has really happened is we have moved from the analog world to the digital world with much more sophisticated and invasive tools monitoring us. If you have ever filled out a credit card application, applied for an auto loan or mortgage, replaced your tires, used a grocery store discount card, joined a social website, googled the web, used a smartphone, the list goes on...you get the idea, you've been tracked as a consumer. On the government front if you have flown on a plane, gotten a driver's, marriage, business or professional license, attended a public school, checked out a book or used a computer at a public library, filled out a form to request information or get a permit from a government agency...you've been recorded somewhere down the line electronically. Multiply that a thousand fold if you've ever filed a tax return or applied for a passport, immigration status or citizenship.

My purpose is not to anger, frustrate or frighten the reader but to motivate them. It is to point out that in many ways that we don't even think about, our privacy is compromised more than the average person can fathom. There are methods to minimize it by choice while also recognizing how much we expose ourselves is limited and we cannot completely prevent it. My personal decision is to be on Google sites, Blogger, YouTube and Buzz and use their tools such as AdSense, Analytics as well as Search. I use Twitter minimally, mainly to tweet my blog posts, with full knowledge that using these sites will compromise my privacy. I completely deleted my Facebook account since I think they are probably the most invasive and are intent on intruding on our personal information as much as the Department of Homeland Security does. [See my blog post "HOW TO DELETE YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT, NOT JUST DEACTIVATE IT" for complete instructions.] I've deleted and closed all of my accounts on other sites knowing full well they still retain my information somewhere in the linings of their cloud. I'm beginning to think LinkedIn is heading in the same direction and I'm reconsidering my presence on that website.

My intent is to make people more aware of what they are doing when they sign up for multiple sites, post all kinds of information on them and know this information is being shared outside of these sites. Additionally hiding behind usernames may also help you feel more secure as far as public knowledge may go. Even so, these websites and companies know far more about you due to the email address, fake or otherwise, you used to create these accounts and your IP address is known every time you visit one. Also people with some internet research savvy can find out who is behind those usernames much more easily than people think.

This is a simple case of let the user beware and have full knowledge. My personal belief is that our privacy
is long gone but is mitigated by several factors. In the immediate there is so much voluminous information being stored I'm not sure companies, websites and the government even knows how to wade through it all. Still, if they are able to figure out how to filter through so much it is my belief is there will sooner or later be a data implosion from overload. With recent attempts, hackers may end up undermining the systems sooner rather than later, a disaster to some, a blessing to others. As far as the government and their data gathering, fingerprinting, biometric and other tracking methods is concerned, it is certainly a violation of our rights but since I believe there will be a total system collapse before Big Brother really gains a hold on us. We need to bear that in mind and actively engage in the fight against our liberties.

The best solution for now is to minimize our exposure by limiting our interaction both offline and online as far as the information we do give out, while being fully aware we cannot avoid it. It also behooves us to have as minimal involvement with the government as we possibly can to avoid the Big Brother of them all (run by Big Sister, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, one of the most dangerous women in the US), the Department of Homeland Security. We can maintain some modicum of privacy but realistically unless we bug out and disappear completely, an option I think is nearly impossible and extremely unlikely to be successful in contemporary America, the best we can do is be cautious and recognize our privacy is long gone. That is until there is technological implosion and/or the system as we know it completely collapses and our country begins anew, as it was meant to be as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, with the true intent of the US Constitution.


  1. This is a great post, and it has led me to delete my own Facebook account, not because I had anything on there that might be "incriminating" but because I never use it, don't foresee using it in the future, and frankly can't stand what I know of the guy who founded the company. I've never really understood the value of Facebook; I joined it because a cousin of mine was on it and it seemed a good way to talk with her. Of course if we were meant to be talking regularly we'd probably call each other or e-mail or visit or something...so I guess I DO understand the value of Facebook: putting more personal information out there under the pretense of contact with people you care about. That probably casts me as a jerk, but honestly it's the only reason I was on there. It's not a good reason, and I dumped Facebook tonight (and will not be "checking in" on my account status).

    I think privacy is an interesting concept; it seems like a very deeply-held right sometimes, while at other times it seems plausible to give that right away. I am on Youtube, Blogger, and am developing a website, all of which give not only the "hosts" plenty of information about me but also give a lot of info to anyone who happens to stumble upon them and care enough to look. I don't consider that an invasion of privacy at all. The information I put there is given of my own volition. I accept the consequences of that as part of the deal. I know that people know more about me than they would have known otherwise, but to a great extent that's the point. No one ever posted a YT video or a blog hoping NO ONE watched it. I don't think anyone ever did, anyway. I could be wrong. :)

    I think it's great that you started this with your work in the early '70s because it shows you that things really haven't been "private" for quite a while, if they ever were. Different scales and methods, sure, but it's been a long time since anyone who said anything among company (or on a telephone, or on the internet) could possibly believe communication was a device to protect privacy.

    You're right about the information overload; I remember shuddering a bit when I "understood" the concept of cloud computing but now I welcome it. Information is only as good as its source, and that information and a dime will eventually...hey, I had to drop a phone reference in there. And a 1970s (or early 80s) one to boot.

    This has gone on and on, but your post made it happen. Thank you for posting it, JR.

    I leave you with this thought, which may be nuts but is going through my mind as re:Facebook, homeland security, etc.: Until they truly know us all they don't really know anything.

    Thanks again, sir.

  2. I'm glad you deleted your Facebook account. Zuckerberg is a strange and unscrupulous guy I think. He's of a generation that thinks nothing of putting everything out there without considering the consequences and he's also the type of guy to exploit. The facial recognition technology they're using goes even further than I thought he would go. I think he really believes he's building a new kind of "nation" which makes him even weirder.

    Now LinkedIn has gone public, far away from the "invitation only" professional site when I was invited years ago. I didn't mind them opening it up but I could see as Facebook was growing bigger how LinkedIn was becoming less professional and business and the business people were becoming more techie and transitioning it to a social site. I need to think about it, although I have to also consider one of my revenue streams is web based, so it may not be an option.

    Whether there is an inherent right to privacy in the US Constitution has been debated as long as I can remember. My thought has always been to take control of what you can and also know the consequences of what you're doing. I certainly did before I went on YouTube in 2006 and created a new name based account in early 2007. Same with Blogger and creating an account. I am surprise how many people think anything said out loud in public can be private.

    What a great statement "Until they truly know us all they don't really know anything." I think that will be what ends up being our salvation in the end along with data implosion and people revolting against information overload.

    Thanks for reading, commenting and the great input!