female duckThe assaults on our privacy come in so many flavors. I recently spoke to a couple of high school classes and a university class and admonished them for giving up all their privacy with nary a whimper. Forty years ago people would have been rioting in the streets over the NSA revelations, but Facebook did them the favor of slowly eroding our privacy and so nothing feels particularly amiss.

Of course, not all our information is swept up for nefarious gain (at least initially). Take ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision). These are the codes that caregivers use to describe the medical services they provide to patients. The old system had 14,000 variations. The new one has 70,000. So the good news is that there is now a specific code if you are burned as a result of your water skis catching fire (I’m not joking) (I’m also wondering what the heck people are getting up to for such a possibility to come about, or the need for a second code for “subsequent encounter”. Lightning striking twice sounds commonplace by comparison.) Similarly, if you are “struck by a duck” or “injured by a macaw” each will have its own code. Finally we will get some insight into which of our birds is the most malicious. Evander Holyfield will be happy to know that ”Open bite of left ear, subsequent encounter” is waiting for his next Tyson imbroglio. And if you get tagged with a few “walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter” codes, well what does that say about you?

What, indeed…? And that is where I begin to ask what is going to happen with all this information. The insurance companies will get a very detailed profile of everything you do that sends you to a doctor. As is oft the case, there is a good side: dangerous large-scale trends can be spotted. But this has to be balanced by the fact that it can be tied back to you. The credit card companies know everything you do with a credit card. The phone companies know everywhere you go and with whom you are communicating. This information will all be compiled to tell your story better than you yourself know it. At which point, manipulating you will become child’s play. In some ways it could make my job easier. Advertising firms would be able to discern exactly what makes you (literally, you) tick and tweak messaging accordingly. But at that point how far can we be from the “pre-crimes unit“?

So grab back some of your privacy. Start with resisting the urge to tell me what you had for breakfast as a Facebook post. That way we both win.

— Simon Dixon

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