Sunday, October 09, 2005

Data vampires and the power of information

“Amateurs study strategy. Professionals study logistics.”
So I’m told.

(photos by Jeremy Huss)

In an “information society,” which I am constantly reminded is our current state of affairs, data vampires are coming out of their coffins everywhere.

The collection, storage, cross-reference, aggregation and ultimately, the marketing/sale/or other use of personal data, is big bizness. It’s fricking huge. If you think Google has a lot on you, you should see the info VISA, MasterCard, your insurance company, the IRS or the U.S. Dept. of Education are collecting.

From supermarket loyalty cards which track your purchases “to better serve our customers” to digital video recorders which track your media habits “for consumer marketing purposes,” more and more of our behaviors are being recorded and monitored.

In my lifetime I have watched as the Orwellian security-state practices have grown from what seemed like a minor inconvenience to what I now consider a major intrusion. That is, to be sure, the natural course of such philosophies. Orwell’s warnings have not been heeded.

Now, I am not unreasonable. When I go the video store, like I did last night, looking for a fix of Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Walken, (I settled on Kill Bill Vol. 1 and True Romance) I have no qualms about giving Family Video my name, address and telephone number. They need to be sure they’re going to get their movies back.

Other businesses, however, have no legitimate reason to request such information, yet they do so boldly and rudely. Some stores, particularly the “big box” electronic and home furnishing stores, have been doing so for many years. K’s Merchandise used to ask for a Zip Code. I was fine giving that out – it was vague enough. Now they ask for everything. They let me make my purchase without giving my Social Security Number (for Social Security), but told me to be sure to save the receipt. Yesterday I learned that Walgreens will not develop your film without a name, address and phone number.

I also read yesterday about a Wal-Mart photo center employee who reported a picture of a high school student’s anti-Bush poster to the police, who called in the Secret Service. See “Wal-Mart Gives Teen's Anti-Bush Poster To Police,” reported by Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive.

I hadn’t shopped at Best Buy in several years. They still have some decent-priced CD’s "on sale." I understand that’s because they undercut their margins on music to get people in the store for other purchases where they make a larger profit. Then again, the margins on compact discs have always been pretty sweet.

When I walked up to one of the 20 checkout registers a few months ago carrying my intended purchase, the Beck “Guero” album, the first thing the clerk said was “Can I have your phone number?”
“No,” I replied flatly.
She did a double take.
“I’d rather not give that out,” I said.
“Oh, okay.”
The transaction continued, although awkwardly, and I smiled and waved my receipt at the big burly security guard who looked me over at the exit.

Needless to say, most of the other customers shot off their home phone numbers unthinkingly at the first request. I doubt many of these individuals would give out their phone numbers to a stranger, such as myself, if I waited in the parking lot in a trenchcoat and asked them as they approached their vehicles.

You just don’t give out your phone number to random strangers. But I guess faceless corporations and mass retailers are a different story. Why does Best Buy want my phone number? Am I that sexy? Are they gonna call me up and ask me out on a date? Does Best Buy want to buy me dinner and do the horizontal mambo? Or do they “just want to be friends?”

They would probably say they only want to “serve me better.” Serve me indeed. To paraphrase George Carlin, whenever you hear that, BEND OVER. My idea of service is not playing 20 questions before I can purchase a simple item.

This summer I received, courtesy of the U.S. Federal Government, a copy of a new and wonderful government survey, called the American Community Survey or some such hokum.

The literature informed “my household had been selected” for the honor of spending “approximately one hour” to fill out the paperwork. The literature was filled with all sorts of friendly warnings that failing to complete the survey was a federal offense punishable with several years in prison. Hurrah.

The first copy of the survey my household received mysteriously found its way into the trash. The second copy was followed with a phone call from a govmunt customer service rep, confirming it had been received. I should have lied; but that’s not my strong suit.

On sitting down to complete the survey, I finished one page before I realized I was extremely offended. Eventually, someone else in the household finished it by phone. Afterward, the respondent agreed it was suspicious, if not downright out of order.

The survey asked all my favorite questions about age, sex, race and ethnicity, but it got even better than that. The survey also asked questions like how many miles I drive to work everyday, how much money I spend on food in a given week, and when was the last time I saw a movie in the theater. I could be wrong, but I think the Feds even asked if I had a preferred brand of condom and how often my bowel movements occur (Magnum and twice a month, if you were curious. See my video, “Bowels of Steel, available at

The name of the game is Control. Mark my words, Applied Digital Solutions wants to implant the world population with RFID chips. The federal transportation department wants to put tracking chips in cars so vehicles will be taxed by the mile, rather than at the pump. So do insurance companies, car rental agencies and trucking companies, for other reasons. Cities are putting cameras and speed radar at stop lights and intersections. The congress has approved a bill (Real ID act) putting RFID chips in driver’s licenses. Passports also are in the works. Guest workers, Medicare recipients, the elderly, VIPs, sex offenders, hurricane survivors… the list goes on.

As a friend recently noted, within two generations there could be a population which has no collective memory of a world without being chipped. There already exists a generation or two who have never seen one of those five-inch floppy disks, an Apple IIE computer or a record album. Those who remember a world without automobiles everywhere are all but gone, as are those who remember flourishing railroads, a world without shopping malls, World War II and private property rights for people (not corporations).

But I digress. The next time you get a paycheck, just look at how much money is going out in taxes. Ask yourself what is being done with that money. Do you like it?


George Carlin speaking during the first Persian Gulf war in the early 1990s:
“We like war. We’re a warlike people. We like war because we’re good at it. And you know why we’re good at it? Cause we get a lot of practice. This country is only 200 years old and already we’ve had 10 major wars. We average a major war every 20 years in this country, so we’re good at it! And it’s a good thing we are. We’re not very good at anything else anymore. Eh? Can’t build a decent car, can’t make a TV set or a VCR worth a fuck. Got no steel industry left, can’t educate our young people, can’t get health care to our old people, but we can bomb the shit out of your country, all right.”


At 8:10 PM, Anonymous calvinmc said...

I went to that MAKE MONEY NOW link just above, and the first thing they ask for is your ZIP code. How appropriate to get such blogspam on an apt (I SAID APT!) article.
Our great Founding Fathers would flip a tit if they saw what had happened to our country.
Religious freedom? Yes, I agree we have it. But if you say you don't believe in the Christian god to someone who doesn't know you, you'd better be ready to defend your beliefs (believes?).
Freedom of speech? Okay, as long as you don't say "terrorist," "death," "president," or "cocksucker" in one sentence on your cell phone. In case you're wondering, they CAN detain for such things. It says so in The Patriot Act.
We can't show naked breasts on television, and if you say "fuck" on live TV, you get in trouble. But, by god, you can show murder mayhem and destruction caused by the orders of your "God fearing Christian" leaders in graphic detail. Like the sticker says on the car of a guy I met once, the Ten Commandments are NOT multiple choice. But it's ok, Bush doesn't kill people, only the people he tells to kill people kill people, and they do it in God's name. Jesus will forgive him, because that's what the Bible says.
Funny, I thought you had to repent your sins, not gloat about them.
I was lectured by an elder, and she asked me what I want out of life. I told her that there is no point in wanting anything, because the harder you work for it, the less likely you are to get it. Unless you sell enough crack to buy your way into the mainstream. Yay, my favorite kind of idol. She said that the past proved me wrong.
But we, as a culture, have no history. It is a mixed up conglomeration of wars, names, dates, places, taxes, and ideals that leaves one with no sure sense of who he is or how he got there.
We have no future because we have no past.
And lately, it's been getting worse. It used to be that immigrants would come here in order to join American society. But now, I have to accept theirs, despite the fact that many will not go to the same effort in reciprocation. Hell, I hear more people speaking other languages besides English when I go to Wal-Mart than I hear of trailerese, the official language of Wal-Marts everywhere.
It used to be I could go for a pleasant j walk. Now there's cameras everywhere. If you are in the neighborhood of illegal activity, you are a suspect because they got your picture from a local ATM machine that you strolled past.
I used to enjoy driving, but now everyone is encouraged to drive like an asshole by the retards who make our traffic laws. (Duhh y r thur tho munny asidens?)
Thank your government. The government at the people, above the people, and in spite of the people.
I can't wait until this fucking place blows the hell up.
Terrorists, we need you now more than ever. Save yourselves. Kill America. Destroy the white man while there is still anything worth saving. And just to be clear, white man is not a racial thing. It's a culture. One that needs to be extinct.
Except for cherry limeaids from Sonic. Goddamn they're good.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger GoPhercOugh said...

That was me right htere. Fucking computers.


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