The cover article of this week’s Time Magazine carries the title ‘Your Data For Sale’. It’s an interesting article, but before clicking on the link, be aware that by doing so a) a pop-up ad appears offering you various subscription options, and b) your reading and possible buying behavior may be tracked by a number of tracking and data-mining companies who sell what they have learned about you to companies selling products and services they think might benefit you (or that you would want to pay for nevertheless). The latter is obviously the topic of this article, and the author – Joel Stein – lays bare how reliable – or rather: unreliable – these data-mining companies are, how data are being used, and what the risks or benefits are. His conclusion is summed up in the tag line: Everything about you is being tracked – get over it”.
My personal experience researching national ID’s is that the same ad by a major player shows up in all my search results (hello: Datacard). I am more in awe of the search and track algorithm than concerned or annoyed, although I must say that I don’t know how the company could help me find a birthday gift for my son.
Stein describes there are many data-mining firms and indeed, all of them are in many respects woefully inaccurate or incomplete in building the profile of his identity. He spends some time on the creepiness of tracking, who does it and how, and what the consumer can do about it. In the end, he says, the industry is unregulated but not all that harmful.
What the article doesn’t mention is any market data of how many people do find it harmful and how many don’t, don’t care, or actually find it useful. Civil liberties groups are vehemently opposed because of privacy reasons, but they may be the vocal minority. These groups have mounted successful fights in blocking National ID’s, specifically in Internet usage leading nations such as the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I wonder why.
If, as Stein argues, the commercial industry is capable of compiling identity profiles of anyone using Internet and e-mail, wouldn’t it be logical the government does the same – possibly better and more targeted? And if there is such widespread inaccuracy, wouldn’t it make sense to have a single, authoritative identifier? One that allows governments regulated access to personal data, yet stems the proliferation of (inaccurate) identities for sale?
The technology embedded in eID’s (National ID’s with a chip) allows that. It brings the power back to the consumer – save certain data that help governments serve its citizens better. Those that don’t want to be tracked can set their preferences (“no tracking”), those that don’t care don’t need to take any action, and those that are under-informed or want to be targeted with ads can check which ones they prefer.
My point is that National ID’s in countries without one actually already exist, but they are inaccurate, for sale, and uncontrolled. Consumers in Facebook and Google dominated countries knowingly and unknowingly contribute to this situation, but conceivably have – through government-issued National ID’s – the opportunity to take control back. Let’s get real.