Arcane Thoughts: Privacy in 2054

You might not have known it from the blog but I took last week off. Vacation! I actually took a little time away from the computer and caught up on some movie watching (made some good finds in the five dollar bin at my local big box discount store).

One movie I saw was Minority Report, based on the Phillip K. Dick story. In short, it’s the year 2054, and there are some precognitive people who can see murders before they happen, which allows the hero to stop the murder before it happens.

Whats interesting though is the optical scanners that blanket the city. As the hero walks down a street, optical scanners are constantly scanning his eyes. Wall mounted billboards greet him by name, asking him if he’d like to buy more of whatever it was they were selling. One even asks how he’s enjoying a previous purchase, mentioning they have a sale or something.

In addition the scanners track his movements as he moves through the city. They control admission to buildings, his purchases, etc.

Even though they movie takes place in the year 2054, I suspect we’re a lot closer than 47 years from this sort of targeted marketing. Everytime I go to Amazon, it has a list of recommendations based on my past purchases. Google gives you targeted advertising based on your current search.

Is this a good thing? I can’t say I’ve decided yet. On one hand I do appreciate having relavent ads. On the other hand, I don’t know that I’m comfortable with not only being tracked, but who might have access to that data. For example, perhaps I don’t want my insurance company to know I’m doing MSN Live searches for home remedies for back pain.

It’s not just the web that’s tracking you. How much info is being logged from just using your software? I have quite a bit of software that calls home looking for updates on a regular basis. At the back of my mind I often wonder what other info is getting passed back and forth.

Cranky Geeks latest episode (#71 as I write this, http://www.crankygeeks.com/2007/07/episode_71_how_vulnerable_are.php ) has a very interesting discussion on the entire topic as I write this.

So am I worried for nothing? Should I care if Amazon (or anyone else) knows I like books about .Net? Are we doomed as a society to “big brother”? Let me know your thoughts.

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