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Beacon Senior News

You have zero privacy. Get over it.

Mar 03, 2020 10:57AM ● By Adam Cochran

Scott McNealy, co-founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems, famously told a group of reporters, “You have zero privacy anyway…Get over it!”

The year was 1999. The Internet as we know it was barely five years old. There was no Facebook, Google or Twitter. eBay was four years old, but they were barely starting to accept credit cards. Paypal wouldn’t exist for another three years.

If McNealy observed that privacy was obsolete in 1999, what must he think of today’s world of social media, smartphones and international commerce via the Internet? Over the next 10-20 years, it will be virtually impossible to live off the grid or be a digital hermit.

For example...

If you have a Gmail address, go to www.myaccount.google.com/ dashboard. Scroll through and explore everything Google knows about you. If you use an Android phone, this will be especially eye-opening.

Now, go to www.google.com/maps/timeline. If you have Google Maps or other Google apps installed on your phone (even if it’s an iPhone), you will see a timeline of virtually everywhere you’ve been on any given date. Nearly every app you have installed on your phone and every website you visit knows more about you than you expect.

Companies are as interested in the items you almost buy as the ones you actually buy. Have you ever contemplated purchasing something on Amazon? You look it up on a regular basis to check the price and read reviews, you add it to your virtual cart, remove it, add it again. When Amazon spots that activity, they often ship the item to the nearest warehouse so that it will arrive quickly once you decide to pull the trigger.

Some people still avoid using their credit or debit cards on the Internet. What’s odd is that they don’t take much time to think about how their card information travels instantaneously from the grocery store to the bank.

When you use your loyalty card at a retail store, you are providing your data to that company (what you bought, which items were on sale, how often you buy certain products). Your shopping information is connected to your home address, phone number and any other information you provided to register for the card.

Don’t panic

I don’t say this to scare or intimidate you into a state of paranoia. While it’s true that you have no privacy, at least in regards to your identity, there is a lot of value in reflecting on the second part of McNealy’s comment: “Get over it.”

I’m not implying that you should offer up all of your deepest secrets to Facebook or Amazon. But I do think that it’s pointless to attempt to be invisible.

Even if you avoid Google and have resisted social media, your friends likely have not. You are a contact in their cell phones, which are connected to Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Data companies are able to connect the dots and form a profile of you by connecting what is known about you by all of these individual companies.

As tempting as it may seem to be a digital hermit, it’s important to acknowledge that those who have “gotten over it” are probably communicating with their kids more frequently, sharing photos with friends and family more often, saving money by purchasing goods online and discovering new horizons.

There are trade-offs to confronting your digital agoraphobia and venturing into cyberspace. But, the truth is, you can’t opt-out of having a unique digital identity. You can only choose whether or not you want to be oblivious to your daily contributions toward that digital identity.