Look, I’m just going to put this out as a blanket statement – you should never give ANY of your personal information out unless it’s absolutely necessary. This goes triple to big corporations. Think about it – if a stranger walked up to you on the street and asked for your home address, place of work, and phone number – would you hand that over without thinking? Not a chance. So, why is it you so freely do so with proven evil corporate giants?
Every “points card”, “loyalty card”, and so-forth is to track you. When the cashier asks for your email address for your receipt, or they want your postal code, tell them you decline. If they insist they need it (they don’t), ask them for their own personal phone number and home address. But giving in is only hurting you and stripping you of more of your privacy – possibly one of the only things you have left that’s actually yours. Think I’m paranoid, or question why it matters? Read on.
It’s like you came home from a long day at the office, walk in the front door and there’s your spouse getting down and dirty with one of your friends. You’re shocked, disgusted, and deeply hurt they’d do such a thing to you. “Why?!” you ask, framing it as if it’s your fault for being upset; seeing as you’re all best friends anyways, shouldn’t you want to join in on the party? Well, that’s what was just uncovered by Canada’s Privacy Commissioner. Turns out that HomeDepot was sharing your email address – something they prompted you to provide explicitly for the purpose of providing you an e-receipt. The thing is, they kind of decided not to mention they were going to share this data with Meta so they could target who was coming into the stores with ads, and also track the effectiveness of ads. Their explanation “Well, employees were exhausted and forgot”. Except, they kind of forgot every single time. Just a thought, but maybe if your employees are so fucking exhausted to ever remember something even once, they’re not employees, but slave labour? Thought that kind of thing became illegal in 1834 (in the British Colonies, anyways), but hey-oh capitalism!
If they’re doing it, you can bet tons of other companies are, too. And, it’s not just Meta (Facebook). It’s going to be Areoplan, AirMiles, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. They’ve all got their hands in the dirt to some extent – some far worse than others. I’d argue Meta is going to be the most egregious as they’ve been digital rapists from their inception. Cambridge Analytica ring a bell to you? But, they’re all tracking you.
I really don’t have the time to get into why the British Empire is one of the most horrific of modern history, but let’s just say there’s entire university degrees handed out on the matter. If you’re not so up and up on the matter, the British more or less desiccated a good portion of the world, enslaved a shitload of people, and committed genocides as if it was just a side hustle. I’m not saying the British are horrible people today, just as the Germans of today aren’t Nazis, but… we should also keep in mind that the Irish population still hasn’t recovered from that little act of genocide, and it’s coming up on 200 years since they pulled that stunt. Don’t worry, I can talk ill of the brits, I’m like 1/2 British so it’s cool.
Massive corporations are basically the same. They’ll stop at effectively nothing to take, steal, and pillage all of the possible resources they can. They’re going to use every unethical technique possible to gain the upper hand, siphon off all the money they make towards their shareholders, and keep that money train rolling no matter what. Make no mistake, you are the slaves. You are a number, just a row in their ever growing database of analytics, and the more they can manage to extract from you towards them, they will. Bit by bit, we are witnessing these corporations take over all the major aspects of our life.
We buy our groceries from one of 3 stores (Weston, Walmart, Sobeys), our finances are controlled by one of 5 major banks (CIBC, TD, RBC, BMO, ScotiaBank), our communications are all over one of 3 carriers (Bell, Rogers, Telus), our digital life is on one of 4 major platforms (Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft), and a lot of our consumables come from one of 2 vendors (Walmart, Amazon). Although we still have a semblance of socialized healthcare in Canada, you’re likely going to be faced with a choice of the crumbling public system of Switch Health, who unsurprisingly has a board of directors who are all some of Doug Fords buddies. Heck, most of your takeout food will come from one of 4 or 5 umbrella companies such as Yum Brands, Recipe Unlimited (formerly Cara Foods), Wendy’s Brands, and so-forth who dominate the fast-food industry. Choice is mainly an illusion, sadly.
With the amount of buying power, these corporations control incredible amounts of the market and their annual income affords them the abilities to do shady shit. Entire legal teams just waiting to battle toothless and highly understaffed government regulatory agencies trying to enforce antiquated laws that are so easily avoided with a little creative wording. Hundreds of millions of dollars is spent by these companies annually through lobbying to keep these old laws in place and never updated to modern standards so they can keep doing what they do without penalty, or penalties so small it’s just the cost of doing business.
When was the last time you went to the LCBO or the grocery store and they asked you for your postal code at checkout? Benign information, seeing as there’s hundreds, if not thousands of people with the same one – so who cares, right? Now swipe your credit card to give them your name. They’re tying all that information together, along with buying information from mass data brokers who have already correlated this info, and now they have your address, purchase history, habits, and so much more. Sometimes you may even be told it’s mandatory to complete the purchase. Don’t worry, it’s not like they’re going to sell that information back to the data brokers, or use it to spam you with highly targeted flyers. No, never! Urban Outfitters absolutely NEVER collected this info, except they settled on their “we totally still didn’t do this” for $731,180. A complete slap on the wrist, but here’s the kicker. They issued this in the form of gift cards. Disgusting if you ask me. How much of that was ever redeemed (realized loss), and even still – they’re making profits back on the money they “returned”. Don’t worry, they just continued to do it again! CAP-IT-AL-ISM!!
Don’t feel special Urban Outfitters. You actually kind of suck. But you’re not alone. OfficeMax totally did this too and settled by paying out $5 and $10 gift cards. Michaels craft store is just as guilty. Heck, there’s even companies out there that are totally rebuilding the Canadian postal code database, and Canada Post sued their asses over it. Williams Sonoma, J Crew, K-Mart, Brooks Brothers, Ikea, Kohls, Bed Bath & Beyond, and up to 25 others in 2015 are all guilty of this crap. Don’t worry, almost all of them settled for gift cards, too. Hrm, does that sound even remotely like that breathing human feces named Galen Weston settling his whole bread fixing class action where they reportedly scammed upwards of $400 from anyone who bought a single loaf of bread every week during the course of when this was going on – meanwhile, they settled for a $25 gift card? This is what a gross violation of your identity rights are worth. A $5.00 gift card. Loblaws was able to scam $400 from people, and all it cost them was $25 a shot. When it came to Tim Hortons illegally scraping your personal information from your phone by using some sneaky hooks in their mobile app, users were rewarded with a stale donut as compensation.
So, maybe… just maybe… don’t give your postal code, or use mobile apps either.
All of the stuff I’ve outlined above is child’s play when we think about what is coming next, but also what is already here. When was the last time you went to Walmart? For me, it was about a month ago when I needed to pickup a handful of things I wouldn’t have been able to elsewhere as I was in a small town. At the checkout, I was greeted with 2 actual people working lanes, but no less than 16 “self-checkout” lanes. I opted for one of them against my better judgement as the line was far less long and I was in a rush – the response they’re hoping for.
As I stood there scanning in my handful of items I was always reminded that they were watching, evidenced by the live image of me on the screen inches away from my face – captured by a camera dead center. There were also dozens overhead carefully calculating my every move, analyzing each frame, and determining if I was stealing. They simply replaced some underpaid cashier with a machine, and using me (us) as free labour. I go to cash out, which includes a careful navigation through a handful of prompts asking me to scan my loyalty card, enter my postal code, rate my experience, and ask if I’d like to donate to some fucking charity. Frankly, I was a little stunned they didn’t ask for a tip.
But, it gets worse. I saw a video the other day of an airport that has now implemented the technology to have a massive screen display your boarding information to you as you walk past it. Pretty cool, right? Except, it displays different information to different people, at the same time. The information visible by one person is specifically tailored to the viewer, all based on line of sight, the SHAPE OF YOUR BODY (not even facial recognition), and object tracking. That’s TERRIFYING. This means they can identify EXACTLY who you are, the exact position you’re standing in time/space, and then display an advertisement to you, and ONLY you, meanwhile everybody around you, as close as a foot away, are all being displayed OTHER advertisements all at the same time – from the same source.
How this gets scary shouldn’t be tough to put together. The moment something is able to make you into a unique entity, becomes the moment they own you.
This is really the crux of all relational databases and programming when it comes down to it. You need to identify something as unique, then you can manipulate it as you require. It just takes a single link to put one massive set of data into another massive set and so forth. That could be as simple as your name, your phone number, address, or if they can’t get that – let’s make it your loyalty, points card, or airmiles number.
The thing is, they’re picking up ANYTHING they can, at ALL places possible, to give them the able to link you into their systems. Questions, cameras, AI, facial recognition, personal details, anything.
I can sympathize with the argument that if you’re doomed and going to get ads anyways, why not at least let them be relevant to your interests, right? That’s simple. I don’t want to be distracted – and that’s exactly what ads are designed to do – capture your attention to stop you from thinking about what you want, and turn your attention towards their message. As I’m scrolling through Facebook creeping the profiles of all of my ex girlfriends to see what they’re up to, I absolutely don’t want to have my attention drawn away by ads for dick pills because they’ve determined I’ve got a complex about my size, or maybe it’s the latest non-stick pan because I’m into cooking.
Have some fun and experiment. While you’ve got Instagram open, start talking about having a kid, or super cars. Suddenly a week later you’re being served up with ads about cribs, diapers, and how to book a test drive for the latest Ferrari. Do a handful of Google searches for a new computer chair, and you’ll be spammed with Office Depot ads for days following.
But it doesn’t just come down to ads. Have you ever opened Facebook or Instagram and wonder how the hell it finds some of the “people you may know”? Sure, they’re pulling this data from phone numbers in your phone, uploading it, correlating it to another profile and blamo. However, something incredibly creepy happened to me a few months ago. I had simply matched with a woman on Bumble, a popular dating app. We had sent a total of 4 messages back and forth over the course of an hour, never exchanging any personal information. I opened Facebook (on my computer – it is not installed on my phone), and her profile was presented as someone I may know. We have no mutual friends, and seemingly no way to link us together. I was severely creeped out.
How did this happen? I do have WhatsApp and Instagram on my phone, both Meta owned companies, so my best guess is they were using some sort of machine learning baked into one of those two apps to monitor what’s on my screen while using other apps, then sending the likeness of those images back to be analyzed, and that data being shared between their fellow child entities. I am having very serious reconsiderations on using Instagram or WhatsApp any further after this.
It goes to illustrate how far they can get their hooks into your life. I’d genuinely be curious as to how this actually happened from a logistical standpoint – and if that method is covered in their terms & conditions. Is it possible that Bumble is sharing data with Meta? I wouldn’t be shocked. I’ve considered reading the entire user agreement of both apps to see if there’s provisions in there, but I’m also no savvy legal mind and I’m not entirely sure I want to dedicate that amount of time into this thought – again, what they’re hoping for. But, let’s just say there is some shady and illegal data capturing or sharing going on – what’s the worst that’ll happen if they’re caught? Whatever it is, it’s not enough.
Maybe you’ve seen the film? It’s essentially this average dude and a stripper who don’t know one another, they both enter some hairbrained military experiment where they’re frozen and ultimately forgotten as society crumbles around them. They wake up in a dystopian time where everything is controlled by corporations, the world is a burning shithole, and you’re assaulted with ads at every turn. They’re watering plants with Gatorade, and people have an average IQ of 11. Idiot dude saves the planet by suggesting they use water for plants as opposed to a sports drink, then wins the hearts of the general public, and of course – the stripper.
But how away from that are we – really? Montsanto essentially controls all of our crops, Pepsi, & Coke have their hands in all of our beverages, and Nestle is privatizing our clean water supply. For context, Terry Crews plays the President of the USA in the flick. He divulged that Fox almost shelved the film after a whole bunch of corporate sponsors put massive pressure on the studio not to release the movie. These companies had paid to have product placements in the film, then when they realized their products were painted in a horrible light, they took offense – shockingly. As such, the movie was released with parody brand names instead.
Well, whenever possible guard your personal information as best as possible. The easiest way to do this is question everything. Ask “why” a lot, and never take an answer at face value. Any time a company asks you for something, decline. If you want to be part of a store card / loyalty program, use a fake name and address. Make up an alias for yourself and stick with it as your corporate alter ego. I’ve got one, and it uses an address I picked at random. I do hope whomever lives at 1295 Queen St West isn’t too confused when they receive mail for “Arthur Vandelay”, with a birthday of Jan 9, 1980. While that’s not the actual info I use, it’s close. My AirMiles card was obtained when I was 17 years old, 2 years younger than was legally allowed to obtain one. I just lied about my birthday. It’s been 23 years and I’ve redeemed tens of thousands of points, all without an issue.
If you are actually required to provide information, lie. Companies do it all the time, so you may as well.
Have multiple burner email addresses. [email protected], or something equally as generic works well. If you use GMail, consider using the plus trick. If your email is [email protected], when you give out your email address, put a plus in it. [email protected]. It’ll still come into [email protected], however you’ll now be able to setup a filter in your mailbox to direct all of that mail into a dedicated folder. This is particularly helpful to find out who is selling your email address, or when you got a piece of SPAM, you’ll find out how your address got out there. Wild, eh?
The best defense is a good offense in this case. Never reveal information to a company, or an individual that you wouldn’t freely give to a really creepy person trying to pick you in a bar, after you just witnessed them spike someone else’s drink.
Sadly, the truth is it’s likely too late.