To the question of what some (most?) of you thought about the last couple of columns in this space: my views on electronic information about each of us being made increasingly available through a more frequently interconnected series of powerful and all-knowing databases. My vote, if you recall, was an unrestrained “Yessiree Bob, and all power to ’em.” I hope I successfully articulated the reasons why I thought these developments were positive.
Clearly, a few of you disagreed with me, and you let me know. Let’s hear it for technology that allows you to quickly take pen in hand (or keyboard and mouse, in this case) when you’re peeved, and fire off your brickbats to the offending author – in this case, me.
To those of you who wrote, thank you. Thank you and yeah, yeah, I heard you, and yes, you did make some good points.
Good point you made #1: These databases can be problematic and downright dangerous when they carry erroneous information – the point was made that once incorrect information gets in to the system (e.g. credit info on some deadbeat bum who happens to share your name gets on to your file with a credit agency), it’s damnably hard to correct/get out.
I agree, and the people who keep these databases have an obligation to provide a better and easier way to correct erroneous information, starting with making it easier to access the information that they’re holding on each of us. It’s about us; we should be able to look at it freely.
Good point you made #2: The inclusion of information about any individual in one or more of these databases should be a conscious choice of those whose information is being included.
I chose, for the convenience that inclusion allows, to make my information available to the credit card companies I deal with, and even to selected mailing lists ’cause, for the most part, I like the stuff I get as a result, and I’m pretty choosy about whose lists I get on. If someone sends me crap, I use the available mechanism to delete my name from the offending list.
That being said, I still can’t seem to keep ahead of the offensive morons who keep sending crap mail (calling it junk mail is much too kind) through to my hotmail account: “Be debt free!” they say.
Block them as they come in I can and will, but the devious little bottom feeders behind this initiative are smart enough (no, smart is too kind, I meant to say obnoxious and pushy enough) to keep changing the e-mail address they fire this dreck in by on a regular basis: “bedebtfreenow2001.com” last week, “reallybedebtfreenow2001.com” this week.
I’m certain that these cretins only keep up the stream of digital clutter because once in a while, some chump responds and actually does business with them. If you happen to be that chump, I curse you on behalf of every other hotmail user on the planet.
But I digress.
Back to the question of voluntary inclusion: the point was made that we should have the choice as to whether or not our personal information is included on any database. Aside from Revenue Canada, which has a legitimate right to some degree of information on all of us who earn money in Canada (and if you don’t agree with that, I understand that the Anarchists of America are recruiting), we should be able to choose whether or not our personal information, even something as simple as an e-mail address,) is included in any databases.
As I said, I chose to have my information included for the convenience it allows me.
Fie on any company that gathers information without the permission of those whom the information is being gathered on.
This publication, for example, will sell mailing lists of subscribers to certain vendors (no one ever really gets “free” for “free” do they?), but also makes it possible for any subscriber to “opt out/opt off” of the list.
Even if they didn’t, the ultimate choice is still there: voting with our (virtual) feet: this publication, like others, is a free subscription, and no one is forcing anyone to subscribe to it.
Yes, you’re right, there are downsides to the widespread availability of personal information on interconnected databases, but I believe they can be managed -make it easier to correct erroneous information, and give everyone the choice as to whether they want to participate.
Who says I don’t listen?
Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.