Tracking You

by Adam Popescu

Imagine every piece of trash you threw out was tracked and stored in a data bank somewhere. Your every physical and digital footstep tracked.

21st century paranoia or reality?

From big business to big government, the truth is, we’re being watched all the time.

Radio frequency identification chips (RFID) track purchases in items as small as candy bar wrappers. Under the auspices of behavioral pricing, credit card companies use data management known as STK, or stock keeping units, tracking the specific content of consumers purchases, using that intel to change card rates based on where users shop.

On the government side, the Orwellian themed Total Information Awareness program is pure Big Brother. Essentially one giant piñata with the personal information of everyone in the United States: e-mail, credit card, phone, medical records, everything, all on file and available in the name of freedom and the fight against terrorism. Amid public outcry and coverage from the NY Times, the program was de-funded in 2003. But instead of dying, the mass surveillance program mutated, renamed and still receives taxpayer money.

Think you’re safe away from the computer, let’s not forget mic’ed up public transportation and cameras on street corners around the world. In the wake of Google revealing they accidentally collect private data via their Google Maps Street View, they are being sued by Vicki Van Valin and Neil Mertz of Oregon for collecting the data and for destroying it. This should be a benchmark case—if Google is allowed to delete, those who had their data collected would not be able to properly take Google to court.

The issue of privacy seems to be hitting a critical juncture. Even the information we can control, like the content we post to social media sites, is often murky when it comes to ownership and privacy. Facebook and My Space continue to slyly change privacy settings, raising concerns and eyebrows,

A few days ago I flew from Washington D.C. to Syracuse, NY. Flipping through US Airway’s complimentary Sky Mail magazine, I eyeballed glossy pages of $200 pens doubling as spy cameras, with enough audio, video and photography firepower to produce your own John Quinoness’ “What Would You Do” experience.

On all levels, someone is watching. Watch out.

—Adam Popescu