Lunaya Pravda

22 June 2006

Monkeywrenching the data miners

A great one from the Seattle P-I today.

As threats to privacy grow, many fight back

As more businesses and government agencies hunger for personal data, many people are fighting back.

Sure, there's fancy encryption software and phone scramblers available, but many people prefer to wield an arsenal of low-tech, time-honored gestures: deception, denial, stonewalling and occasional pettiness.

Why not? Big corporations use those tactics every day.

His company used to require people to give their names and e-mail addresses in order to download free trial software. But many people registered their first and last names as "Screw" and "You" -- or something worse -- followed by a bogus address.

"It became an unmanageable system," Sampson said. His company now offers software without registration. While it's lost the ability to track people, it's had a huge increase in downloads.

"It's in our best interest to ask for less information," he said.

Gee, you think? I lie my ass off every time - unless there's a good reason for the company to be able to find me. Fake names, fake phone numbers, fake email addresses. I'm sorry, but Best Buy did NOT need my phone number in order for me to purchase a stand for my DVD player. So, they got a bogus one. And most of these companies accept a lie far more easily than they accept a curt "no, you may not have my phone number." We privacy-minded folk are damn tired of being viewed as aliens or paranoid freaks because we refuse to share that info.

Perhaps one of the biggest targets of ire are the "loyalty" cards groceries use to track shopping habits. The Internet, for example, froths with tips on how to monkey with Safeway's Club Cards, by encouraging shoppers to swap card numbers or punch 800-SAFEWAY on the checkout pad.

One Seattle man, Keith Gormezano, was so incensed about Safeway's eight-year-old program that he posted his card number online for others to use, in an effort to pollute the company's data.

Safeway's weak explanation of using the data to track shopping trends is... well, crap. Stores can track shopping trends by tracking what happens to their inventory. They don't need personal data for that. It's the same ruse Walmart tried to employ to justify putting RFID in their inventory. Exactly how does RFID enable better shelf stocking than, say, the bar codes they scan when you make a purchase?

Good for Mr. Gormezano, and I really do like this idea of sharing club card numbers... sort of a BugMeNot for shoppers. I've generally avoided getting those loyalty cards for that very reason, but I'm wondering if maybe a group of friends and I could just get one of those and share it - preferrably friends in multiple states. Our fake multiple-personality shopper could be visiting a Safeway here in Seattle one minute, and at a safeway register in Los Angeles 20 minutes later. I love it. Anyone else interested in this?

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