Lists leave people without a choice

I don’t know if Ken Hanley’s column “They have a little list, and that’s good” ( ComputerWorld Canada June 29, page 16) was meant to simply inflame or really mirror his views. Whatever the case, I strongly disagree with his views.

If I understand the column correctly (and I just re-read it), Hanley appears to have no problems with anyone and everyone knowing pretty much everything and anything about him. And, of course, anyone who disagrees seems to be labelled “paranoid,” with the implication that they are quite foolish to hold an opinion different from yours.

The most obvious point that he overlooks (or decline to care about) is one of choice – he chooses to give everything to everyone because it suits him. That’s fine, except that I choose to be somewhat more restrictive about who knows what about me, but in his vision of the data universe, that doesn’t/shouldn’t matter. He chooses not to be bothered by hustlers and their schemes, by junk mail, by tele-pests who call at all hours of the day and night. He seems to enjoy “cool mailings” – that’s his choice. Mine is for all except those few I want to hear from to leave me the hell alone.

My bluebox is full of junk mail…targeted mailings will not lessen the flow, I assure you. As the price of targeting comes down, more companies use it. In the grand scheme of things all this is more annoyance than threat, but the annoyance grows every year without any way for me to lessen it. I have no choice, no say, no power. But, according to Hanley, that’s “a good thing.”

Tracking the purchases that I make is not quite the innocuous nothing that he makes it out to be. Maybe I’ve bought something as a gift and have no further use in it or its ilk – and I certainly don’t want to get junk mail (targeted or otherwise) because of that purchase.

Further down the scale of nasty, what if the purchases are no longer required due to some emotionally troubling event – eg. death of a pet, child, spouse, or parent? Hospitals routinely sell their lists of new parents for companies to exploit – and even if the child died in childbirth, the parents still get mailings. Even nastier things can happen when hate groups (of whatever stripe) get these cheap, targeted lists to see who might support their cause. Or, worse, create an “enemies” list. Hell, MP’s do it all the time (read the news). No one has a choice about the creation of these lists. No one has a way to reliably detect or fix errors in these lists. Hanley simply assumes that all lists will be perfectly correct, and never misused in any way. Yeah, right.

He also seems to put a lot of faith in giving full information about our live to the police. Sympathetic police officers have been known to exploit drivers license databases to pass on the addresses of abortion supporters to anti-choice groups. Imagine how helpful they could be to hate groups if they could supply accurate targeting information based on telephone of car GPSs. Or even a GPS embedded in a chip under our skins.

Actually, all of these “secure” databases only require a skilled (or semi-skilled) cracker to break the security and siphon off whatever information, whenever. Do the risks outweigh the benefits? Again, this should be a personal choice – but you seem quite anti-choice.

Oh, and you totally overlook the new up and coming crime – identity theft. It’s fun, it’s easy (and getting easier), and almost impossible to get caught.

Anyway, that’s enough for now – I’m sure you’ll get quite a few responses.

Brian Greiner