Sunday, June 05, 2005

Buckley Makes Me Want to Curl Up in a Big Ball

Russell Buckley has successfully scared me to death.

No, it's not the heart attack-triggering scared like the time my little sister hid in my closet one night and proceeded to emerge once I was safely tucked into bed. It's more the throw-your-arms-up-in-helplessness scared.

As Buckley signals the "death knell of privacy," I start to think: why haven't I been worrying about this for years? And why does everyone else seem to be oblivious or less-than-mildly concerned? Sure, I'm that type of person: the worrier about how all this wonderful technology is going to end up ruining my life. After I took a class with a professor who was a resident expert on privacy issues, I decided I'd rather not have databases of information -- however innocuous -- about me floating around to propsective insurers, employers and friends. I'd rather not have someone be able to Google what I bought at Harris-Teeter last month and then decide they can't insure/employ/respect me because I may or may not be chemically dependent on Diet Dr Pepper.

I feel very alone on this one. I watch others in front of me happily swipe their VIC (is that Very Important Customer?) cards and get their well-earned discounts while a database somewhere fills up with how much sodium they're eating. The public seems oblivious and generally unperturbed by these Orwellian prospects.

So far, the heavily intrusive implementations of these technologies have yet to be used to any great extent -- at least, not publicly. Perhaps if employee-tracking became common in America, we'd see some uproar.

From an admittedly contradictory political perspective, however, the possibilities are endless. I'll submit to you a quick three that come to mind:
1) A campaign that is targeting young, single intellectuals might be able to hit everyone with a mobile device in a coffee house in its district.
2) GOTV efforts can be boosted by poll-tracking devices that know if a voter has yet visited the the polls. Furthermore, you can more easily reach the voters who haven't.
3) Campaigns should be able to pinpoint where visitors to their website are logging on (not to mention which parts of the site they're looking at), lending to a much tighter targeting ability in canvassing and direct mail messaging.

As Buckley says, the good uses for this technology require creativity and ingenuity, as we're seeing in the Wired story about saving lives in South Africa or the CNN story about war protesting with mobile technology. But the evil uses are easier. And we all like our jobs easier.

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