Too Much Information

Credit cards, checks and debit cards allow the tracking of our every movement.

Many grocery stores have customer loyalty cards which exist more to track our purchases than offer us savings. Think about it – who would offer you discounts if they didn’t get anything out of it? Sure, there’s a bit of loyalty, which means it’s not a complete lie – but the true advantage comes in finding out what you are purchasing, how much you’ll pay for it, when you like to purchase and how often you make purchases.

Supply chain improvements couldn’t happen without that sort of information. This supposedly benign information tells a lot about your consumption habits. Most telling? The things work. People use them. You don’t only find these programs in grocery stores – video stores, drug stores and even radio stations have ’em. Our country might get them.

Well, those are understandable – you’re safe when you don’t present your card, right? Nope. Michelin includes RFID tags in every tire they sell, Benneton wanted to do the same in clothing, Gilette puts them in their packs of razor blades, Wal-mart wants their top 100 vendors to use them.

RFID chips work 1.5 meters away – walk into a store, boom! Did you see Minority Report? Probably not as far in the future as you think. The earlier article from the Guardian mentions an installation where a store has a camera that is triggered when the customer removes a pack of the Gilette Mach 3 blades. Another picture is taken at the checkout to make sure you’ve paid for them. Scary.

So if you don’t leave the house, purchase everything with cash and don’t patronize those companies, you’re okay? Probably not.

Anything remotely having to do with financial services generally requires your social security number. Physicians keep your social security number to track your medical history. Naturally the insurance companies often use that, too. I even tried to inquire about a phone line (my wife and I only have cell phones, no home phone) and the local phone company required a social security number, supposedly to determine if they required us to make a deposit. And naturally, I could leave a deposit if I didn’t want them to check – but I don’t think they accept cash through the phone (and if they did, would that be any different?), so it’s really a no-win situation whichever way you turn. If you want to participate in life, you have to fork over the information. Mark of the beast, anyone?

Speaking of phones, some existing and most emerging cell phones contain emergency GPS locators.

Will there ever be a time when we can truly be alone again? Even if we aren’t around another person, what will be there with us? Even if we don’t get hit by any of this new technology that makes it easier to track our behavior, someone at the coffee shop just might turn you in. Has Big Brother finally arrived? George Orwell may have simply been off by 20 years – in the grand scheme of things, not a huge margin at all.

Am I just paranoid? Perhaps. But I’m not alone.