Tom Stafford

Commentary: What data collectors know about you can be scary

The thought that someone is constantly combing through all my online data reminds me of the feeling I had on Saturday mornings in my early adolescence when my mother straightened up my underwear drawer.

My guess is that it’s the very feeling drug companies were trying to treat when they invented anti-anxiety meds.

Back then, there was only one bit of data my mom’s search yielded: Whether the best sale had been at Sears, Penney’s or Monkey Wards the week she last resupplied me with tighty-whities.

And that’s information of the same ilk that data geeks are after these day from my online information.

They want to know what I want to buy when I want to buy it so I’ll buy it from them, which some people may think is mighty nice of them.

I have long suspected that my metrics are in a database somewhere under the classification of Frugal Caucasians, which is another way of saying tighty-whities.

But then I began to think.

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The taxonomic ranks that describe all life have seven levels: Kingdom, phylum (or division), class, order, family, genus, and species. Given the money-making potential of consumer data, the classifications are likely more complex.

If I don’t already have one, I suspect I’ll soon be given my own algorhithm - or at least a digital portrait. I don’t think it will include my DNA, which I haven’t sent out to be analyzed. But even of that I’m can’t be certain.

I’m more certain that the information collectors share much of what they have with our government, a notion that should give most citizens the same feeling I had Saturday mornings of my early adolescence.

For some, the anxiety may be heightened by the thought that the Donald and his minions have access to that data.

For others, it may manifest itself under the thought that some Democrat who wants to take away everyone’s assault rifles has the necessary data at his or her command to identify those gun owners.

To show that we should all feel united about this, Edward Snowden this week released a book about government eaves dropping that suggests a scarier reality: That the data, once collected, never fades away, meaning it will be around for the rest of our lives for others to use.

He underscores the point through the title of his new book, Permanent Record.

I’ll leave you with a scary little story from Springfield.

A friend of mine who lives in this town - and has for years - tells me he was shooting the breeze about a month ago while out driving with a friend of his.

Although not quite the tighty-whitie I am, the Maserati Gran Turismo is still out of his income bracket.

But because talk is cheap and guys are guys, he and his friend were each putting their two cents in about the car.

A day or two later, my friend tells me, he opens his smart phone and fires up his search engine.

The first thing he sees is an advertisement for the Maserati Gran Tourismo.

Then he tells me that his smart phone was with them during the ride, but that he never conversed with anyone while using it.

He’s convinced the ad did not show up by accident.

He’s convinced someone - or something — was listening.

And that’s enough to bring on a wave of discomfort even to a guy wearing Duluth Trading Co. Buck Naked underwear.

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