"Normal People Don't Care." That's how blogger Matt Roseff at Business Insider rather accurately sizes up the flap over the news that the Path smartphone social network app uploads address book information. The disclosure of course, immediately prompted outrage from Congress, which has decided that Path, a company pretty much unknown as late as last week, is now the next great Internet privacy threat.
Roseff trunculantly mines the absurdity of this teacup techno-panic:
This whole Path thing follows the non-flap a couple weeks ago when Google changed its privacy policies, or rather formalized and consolidated a bunch of policies that were already in place. in particular saw a great opportunity to cast aspersions on its rival and took out full-page newspaper ads talking about how its products would always respect your privacy because Microsoft doesn't make its money from advertising, or something.
Nobody ever seems to think through, realistically, what could actually happen with this supposedlyvaluable and sacred personal information that companies are collecting.
So let's do a thought experiment here.
Say you have a friend who uses Path. Path just uploaded his entire address book. It wasn't encrypted in transit, which means that some bad guy could have intercepted it. (Let's use our very active imaginations to imagine that there are bad guys like this, who sniff wires all day looking for address book information rather than, say, bank account numbers.)
So what are they going to do with that info?
"Well, come on," you sputter. "Now they know where I live!"
Gosh. If you own a house in most places in the U.S., anybody can go down to the county records office and not only find out where you live, but also how much you paid for your house and how much you sold it for 10 years later. It's a matter of public record.
Guess who else knows where you live:
- Any company who employed you while you live where you live now.
- Your bank -- who also knows how much money you spent last month and has a pretty good idea where you spent it.
- Your credit card company -- who also knows what you bought and how much you paid.
- Every magazine you've ever subscribed to, and every catalog and junk mail purveyor they've sold your address to.
- The IRS, DMV, and any other government agency you're forced to interact with.
- Your doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, plumber, electrician, and any other professional with whom you have a business relationship.
- Your mom, who's about to pay you a surprise visit and stay for a whole month.
Unless you've taken extreme measures, your address is pretty close to public information already.
"OK, yeah, fine, but what about stalkers? This could help stalkers!"
If your stalker's somebody you used to know -- an ex-boyfriend, say -- they have lots of other ways of getting that information. Like asking a mutual friend. Or hiring a private investigator, who can probably find you in a few minutes by doing a skip trace.
If you're worried about complete strangers stalking you, you're either famous or criminal -- in which case it's time to get some security -- or hopelessly neurotic.