No Virginia, There is No Privacy

Frictionless Exposure

The announcement of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he characterized as “frictionless experiences” got me thinking:  Does the notion of “privacy” exist in today’s digital world?  A world where your unique self and its interesting voyage through life are now fully recorded, analyzed and monetized.  In truth, we are all individually one giant step closer to starring in our own Truman Show.


Yes – and to support this notion let’s take a quick look at a few example services we use in our daily lives.


As a logged in Facebook user, websites (who integrate with the Facebook platform) already have the ability to know who you are when you visit.  Before the latest enhancement to the Facebook platform, you could ‘like’ a page and if your friends visited the same page they would come to know that you liked it.

All this explicit user action information was of course also sent back to Facebook.

The new changes in the Open Graph API may now allow websites to automatically post an update stating what article you’ve just read – even if you didn’t explicitly ‘like’ it.

This concept of automatically posting your personal event data will be extended as Facebook integrates video and music services, streaming all the things you watch, listen to and buy.  And you may not be able to opt out even if you log out.

Now how are you going to approach your web browsing experience?  I’m sure that you won’t mind if folks know about your Discovery Channel or Economist browsing habits.  But say you’re planning a vacation trip as a surprise; you go to a vacation site and that information gets posted to your Wall.  That automatic Wall post could potentially spoil your gift. 

You get the idea.


Google has been famous for its bold statement of never having to delete an email - yet another cool, free service from the data giant.  Of course you have to be comfortable with Google data mining all of your email.  Every single message is parsed and analyzed in the name of understanding you better. 

Every. Single. Message. 

The mining is done to provide you with better services of course [read better advertising].


Since December of 2009 Google has been keeping track of all of your searches and has been building a profile on you.  This is not data in the aggregate – it’s specifically about you.  Google uses your profile to tailor your query results to what Google thinks is a best match for you as an individual.  This means theoretically no two users search results are the same.  It’s also means that Google can control the resulting data that you are presented with; both inclusive and, more importantly, exclusive.

Bing even goes so far as to fuse your Facebook friends with your Bing search results.


Earlier this year Apple and Google got into privacy trouble when it became known that both companies were collecting and storing location data on their customers; sometimes even when the location feature had been ‘turned off’ by the phone owner.


Here is an except from the latest Verizon Wireless contract agreement:

What kind of data is used to prepare business and marketing reports?

Verizon Wireless will use the following categories of information:

Mobile Usage Information:

  • Addresses of websites you visit when using our wireless service.  These data strings (or URLs) may include search terms you have used.
  • Location of your device
  • App and device feature usage

Consumer Information:

  • Information about your use of Verizon products and services (such as data and calling features, device type, and amount of use)
  • Demographic and interest categories provided to us by other companies (such as gender, age range, sports fan, or pet owner)

We use this Information in a manner that does not identify you personally to prepare these reports for our own and third party purposes.  Verizon Wireless may also share location information with other companies in a way that does not personally identify you so that they can produce limited business and marketing reports.

All of your activites are tracked and ‘aggregated’.  There is some variability with respect to opt-out but pretty much your information is collected and that’s that.


Concierge services and navigation company, OnStar, made an announcement that it will continue to keep track of an OnStar equipped vehicle’s speed and location information – even after the consumer discontinues the service

That’s what I call frictionless.


Law enforcement agencies can and do seek real-time surveillance of credit card transactionsFourth Amendment be damned, as it takes merely a subpoena to gain access to your account.  Although cash may be ‘inconvenient’ it’s one of the last ways to try to avoid prying eyes.  Something to think about next time you and a friend use Square to even up the bar tab.


Hiding in Plain Sight

It seems that Millennials are far less concerned than previous generations when it comes to privacy.  The amount of personal information freely shared is unprecedented and to date it seems that Zuckerberg’s Law is proving to be true. 

Users actively participate with physical check-in services like Foursquare and Yelp that publish the time, date and location of the establishment they are sitting at. 

Then there are virtual check-in services with the likes of Miso and IntoNow where you broadcast to the world what you are watching on TV.

The ACLU will do its best to try and protect your rights but as personal information becomes more available and readily accessible most likely theirs will become a Sisyphean task.

The digital age isn’t something you can hide from, but perhaps it is a place that you can negotiate with more prudence; unless of course you subscribe to former Sun CEO Scott McNealy’s proposition. 

His solution?  “Get over it.”