Reasonable Privacy

08 Jun 2004|Davis Masten

Reason magazine created 40,000 custom covers to illustrate the editorial focus of their May issue. The image below is an example of what subscribers received: an aerial photo of their home right on the cover. This exercise underscores the powerful article Database Nation inside, which speaks to the benefits of living in a data-mining world. While the free market/Libertarian point of view is clear in the article, it also is a good overview of how much is publicly available about each one of us.

As someone who has studied trust/privacy issues for years, I found the article to be chilling but also refreshing. The amount of easily accessible data available is growing every day and truly frightens me.


I am so tired of being bombarded by others who use this information such as getting spam from myself that I did not send or snail-mail solicitations from banks because their databases say I am target worth irritating. But it’s only getting worse. Spyware is now available and the idea of phone spam really makes me cringe.

However, there are benefits to these databases working together. For instance, the time it takes have a loan processed has gone from weeks to minutes. Another example is retailers who are able to compete because they know more about their shoppers and can therefore run more efficiently.

I recently gave in and provided my correct address and phone number to the Safeway supermarket’s frequent shopper program because the cost savings were so significant. While I like the benefits of better grocery prices, overall I find the experience of my check-out guy knowing everything from my favorite soda to home address rather unnerving. This transparency of information leaves me cold as a consumer and Reason gets to the heart of that chill with these unnerving covers. However, data mining will continue to grow in usefulness, not only to big business, but increased understanding of consumers’ desires and to the development of products and services that I’ll probably really like.

(Another scary cover)

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