Creeps: Why are you following me?

Shop Girl by Kitty Kaufman

I read an article about how cellphone companies track where you are. This is not new. It's not news, I know they do it. I know cameras are everywhere. Still it gives me the creeps.

Noam Cohen, who reported the story in The Times, says it's Google Latitude and Foursquare that turned where you are into a game. I have two Twitter friends who post their whereabouts every day. They're witty and where they go is way more fun than where I am when I'm reading where they are. Anyway, Cohen cites a German politician who, in a six month period, found out his cellphone company had tracked him 35,000 times. He took Deutsche Telekom to court where it took another six months of wrangling to get them to admit it. I wonder if they continued watching, sorry, tracking him. If you're thinking it can't happen here, Deutsche Telekom owns T-Mobile.

Some phone companies are apparently storing your positions for six months. You could ask yourself why anyone or your phone company needs to save this data. I have no idea. Our whereabouts along with everything else is no longer our own. A hundred years ago this was more upsetting to me than it is now because before stalkers had been invented, I had one. Anyone at my company, Sprint, keeping an eye on me needs strong coffee to keep from dozing off. But still.

On a much creepier note, The Times began charging for online content March 28th. If you're not a home subscriber you need a digital subscription to read more than 20 articles a month. I don't know how they cut you off; maybe a letter to the principal with a note on your permanent record. I hit restart on Sunday delivery. And this is the creepy part: they have a list of articles they think I would like. I don't know when it started. Was it before or after I agreed to home delivery?

The creeps don't show up on the home page. Click on any story and it's inside next to "Most e-mailed" and what it says is, "Recommended for you." Yesterday I read how "Cellphone Radiation May Alter Your Brain," and I posted in the comments that "A little brain-altering might work for me." And there it is: a list of 66 articles they think I might like. The articles include "Artificial Dye Safe to Eat," which patently proves the dudes know nothing about me and "Vidalia Onion Soup with Wild Rice and Maytag Blue Cheese Croutons." I know it's the cheese and yet all I can picture is a spin cycle and besides, I don't like onions.

That The Times and Sprint are following me is old hat to the boys at Netflix. They've been at this for years. If you ever click the stars under the movies you liked, know they save those clicks forever. Forever. Although I'm vaguely curious to see if what they think is what I think, I never do.

Along with all the creepiness there is one bright note. Several months ago my brother sent me a link about me on a website aggregator. He also sent me the link to their privacy statement. It turns out that when you send a polite note with a request to remove your data, they do, in fact, take it off. I checked. You have to keep after them.
No secrets at The Times or anywhere else
If you think this has nothing to do with you: How to Fix (0r Kill) Web Data About You

© April 1, 2011
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