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Location: Oaksterdam, California

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Are you worried? Are you on the Web?

The incomparable Mark Morford asks the really important questions today. Does Not Know Me

Here, have my credit card info. And my data profile. And my shoe size. What do you really know?

I am a walking time bomb.

Like millions, I live deep deep deep in the digital storm, aswim in the electronic morass, irrevocable and irreversible and never to return to the ways of old because, as everyone knows, once you step foot into the rushing miasma of Net commerce and e-communication, you are imprinted onto the digital Void pretty much forever.

The Net, it washes over your life in a tidal wave of logins and passwords and cookies and AutoFill forms and account summaries and credit card numbers and semisecure Web sites, each promising on a stack of ridiculously defective Windows software that they won't sell or share your personal data, even though most of them do because otherwise how do you explain the 600 goddamn spam messages I receive every day? I'm looking at you, SBC.

I pay all my bills online. I bank online. I have accounts at probably 50 online merchants, everyone from the big boys like iTunes and Amazon and eBay and AdultDVDEmpire to scrappier shops like Teeccinno and VitaminShoppe and, along with a whole plethora of e-joints I've long since forgotten about because I set up an account there once to buy a Christmas gift only to change my mind at the last minute because I found the same item for three bucks cheaper plus free shipping from some other site that I purchased from once and then completely forgot about.

It's just a matter of time before my data is exposed and the hackers and thieves and government agents come and steal my very being and my life is ruined. Right? Well, sort of.

MapQuest. Neiman Marcus. Erowid. Car & Driver. PayPal. UPS. Evite. TinyURL. Chicago Trib. Good Vibrations. Psychology Today. Ofoto. L'Occitane. Southwest Airlines. The Ugg Store., MacConnection, My Web browser's AutoFill list reveals either a massive and frightening amount about me and my purchasing habits and my predilections for acrylic sex toys and French incense and cars, or ... nothing at all.

This is the gist. I have left an enormous e-trail of purchases and site visits and account data. My credit card number is lodged in a hundred different company servers, if not more. I have doubtlessly generated some sort of meta-profile somewhere that indicates which ads I'd like to see more of and which products might interest me and I'm probably the target of a thousand advertisers who think they can reach me in some significant or profound way.

But this is what gets lost in the morass of e-commerce and credit cards and alarmist privacy concerns: They cannot touch me. They cannot actually reach me in any significant manner, ever. I am protected and secure and absolutely, thoroughly immune, forever. And you know what? So are you.

Look. They can clog the Internet with spam and slam us all with a thousand targeted gender-specific demographic-intensive ads per day. They can go so far as to steal my credit card numbers and my Social Security number and make my life a living logistical hell. It's true. And it's goddamn scary and obnoxious and wrong on a hundred different levels.

But is this really me? Is this truly any sort of real danger to what I truly value, those things that engage my spirit and fondle my soul and melt the heart of my cockles? What sort of threat is some marketer's data sheet to my ability to laugh and love and lick my lover, to enjoy dog parks and bath salts and huge ancient trees? Answer: nada.

Go read the rest...