Consiparcy Theory: Technology – Great Advances or Big Brother ?


I was reading some articles in Time Magazine on the flight from Seattle to San Jose about the American Elections, it’s amazing to see how both sides are using technology to build monster databases that provide intelligence on potential voters, this includes personal data including home address, phone numbers, birthdays, this gets cross referenced with census data, plus any additional data the party can pull together (perhaps credit history etc…) – each record can contain up-to 400 pieces of information on an individual.

So how private is your private life, your position can be tracked through your cell phone location (see the location based server video on MSDN Channel 9 – or Steve Lombardi’s current cell phone location), your movements throughout the day can be tracked based on purchases you make on your credit/debit card – banks can determine (through AI systems) whether you are stepping out of your normal spending pattern, this raises a red flag so the bank can potentially put your card on hold (this happened to me when I took a day trip from Mt Baker to Vancouver). Companies like Amazon and others track your online spending so they can recommend other items that might appeal to you (based on similar purchases other people make).

Your ISP can track the web pages you visit, your corporate IT group can do the same – Stores, gas stations, shopping malls, and other public places have a ton of cameras which can track you throughout the day (I seem to remember hearing that you pass through 30-40 cameras on an average day).

If you purchase alcohol on a regular basis using a credit/debit card this would appear in your bank account history, perhaps health insurance companies might be interested in the amount you purchase, this might flag that you have an alcohol problem and therefore affect your insurance premiums. Wouldn’t it be interesting for cable companies to provide information on the TV channels/programs you watch to companies online stores so they can target you with appropriate offers.

Technology is making the world smaller, I can make a Voice/Video call from my PC to anywhere in the world using clients such as Skype or IM – but technology could potentially be used to provide a complete history of my life, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve purchased, my likes, dislikes, the type of restaurants I visit, even my coffee preferences. So, back to the original question, how private is your private life ?

– Mike


Comments (8)

  1. Scott says:

    Actually, you need to use the grocery stores cards. Using your debit/credit card for purchases specifies the place you made the purchase and the total purchase price, but it does not itemize exactly what items were purchased.

    Now I’m not saying that information can’t be passed along, I’m simply saying that it currently doesn’t get passed along to the bank. Now, if you use the cards most grocery stores have, then yes, they have that information.

  2. I don’t think anyone has as much privacy as they would like to think. So the problem rapidly turns into an ethics one – what part of that information is right to use, and what isn’t?

    A sidenote though… thanks to my using a gas station at a QFC in Lynnwood and getting a discount using my Advantage card, QFC now knows that I buy gas on a regular basis! (What’s worse, is that they know I buy regular unleaded). It’ll be terrible what they use that information for.

    (This is why some people regularly and exclusively still use cash for purchases)

  3. Mike says:

    but the data "they" (who ever they are) can extract from this is the frequency that you fill up your vehicle, this (at some level) shows how frequently you are driving, and the distances you are covering.

    While working as a Police Constable in the UK we had a system under trial that OCR’d vehicle number plates, correlated that with the vehicle speed and could automatically send a speeding notification/offense to your home address – for the trial of the technology a large display panel 1/2 mile down the road from the OCR system would display the vehicle registration number, the car make and color, and the speed – this must have freaked some drivers out… Imagine seeing "Mr Hall, driving a Blue Nissan something or other, you are currently driving at 78 MPH"…

    – Mike

  4. Digger-Ronald says:

    I am ready for a juicy RFID discussion.

  5. Mike says:

    Oh yes, I didn’t even think about RFID when writing the original comment…

    – Mike