Saturday, January 18, 2014


TMI, otherwise known as too much information, seems to be the rule now rather than the exception. In my grand dads day people kept their personal information "close to their vest" or "under their hats" (note it was during his time when such expressions became popular--not so subtle reminders during World War II that "loose lips sink ships" and so on). 

Back then your personal information was personal--the only person who knew your financial information was your banker (and even then he probably didn't know everything about your finances as it wasn't uncommon for people to hide some of their money rather than place it all with the bankers), the only person who knew about your health was your doctor, and the only person who knew about your history--both lustrious and illustrious, unless one was particularly fond of digging through old news papers--may have been only your closest relatives.

These days your information, good, bad, indifferent, scandalous or otherwise, is available to anyone with access to the internet. And that isn't always a good thing. The worse part is that, NSA data mining not withstanding, it is often each person who is consciously or unconsciously providing the majority of this information about themselves to be gathered, mined, parsed, and saved into perpetuity.
This is how you are providing vast amounts of data about yourself and how you can stop it:
  • Fitbit and other bio-metric devices.  Does the world really need to know how many steps you took last Friday and how well you slept last night?  If you must record such information, do it on a piece of paper.  Otherwise be satisfied that your clothes fit well and you get a bit of sunshine each day.
  • Genealogy DNA tests.  While some people think this is one of the best inventions since sliced bread--or also puts your most personal of information (your DNA) out in the cloud and saved for who knows what future uses. Thanks but I would prefer to keep my DNA to myself.
  • Your Facebook timeline.  I'm sure many future biographers will be able to collate a compendium of a person's life simply by reviewing someone's Facebook timeline/Instagram timeline/Twitter feed/etc.
  • Everything you buy these days.  People use their credit cards and debit cards for nearly everything they purchase--from their morning Starbucks to their bimonthly order of Viagra to the dinner for two purchased when they were supposed to be solo business trip.  In other words, pay cash and get rid of these electronic breadcrumbs that give anyone a trail to follow. 
  • And everything you do.  A while back I called a local (legitimate) massage place figuring my aching back and feet could use a bit of attention and they insisted on a credit card number even though I told them I would be paying cash.  I promptly took my business to Chinatown, paid cash for one of the better massages I've ever had, and left no record of my activities.
  • Let's not forget about your comment history.  These days everyone has an opinion and there are more than enough online venues to let you express such opinions--reddit, your local newspaper's comment section, etc.  However these comments, even when made anonymously, can still be identified and associated with you for basically ever.
  • Finally, your electronics are more likely to allow easy tracking of you and provide reams of information on your thoughts and activities than Orwell could have ever imagined.  Cell phones can be pinged, email can be intercepted, your wi-fi connections and online searches can be tracked right back to you and even your camera can GPS-tag the location where you took the photo.
In this world of information overload, where no personal information is too personal to post online for everyone to see, consider ratcheting back the amount of information you provide.  You never know how it could be used against you in the future.

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