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Introduction > Privacy Is Personal

Privacy Is Personal

So when my editor at O'Reilly approached me to write Computer Privacy Annoyances, I practically leapt at the chance. I realized I had a lot to say—and a lot to learn.

One thing I learned is that privacy is, well, personal. Everyone has their own definition of what's an acceptable level of privacy and when that limit has been exceeded. My wife, for example, loves to get catalogs in the mail, so our house is littered with slick publications from The Company Store, J. Jill, L.L.Bean, Pottery Barn, Sundance, Victoria's Secret, Williams-Sonoma, and more. Every time we order something from one of them, it seems like two new catalogs show up. She will also happily hand over her email address or apply for a store credit card if it means getting a 10 or 20 percent discount.

Not me. I loathe credit cards and hate catalogs (with the possible exception of Victoria's Secret). If it were up to me, I'd cut up all our plastic and remove our address permanently from mailing lists. Then again, divorces can be messy—and extremely detrimental to one's privacy—so I restrain myself.

I also learned that too much privacy can hurt you in other ways. While writing this book, I heard from an old friend from junior high school. He found me on a whim by typing my name into Google. Had I removed my traces from the Web (you'll find out how in Chapter 3) I would never have reconnected with him.

There are other, more literal costs. If you tell your bank to stop sharing your data (see Chapter 2), you'll get fewer offers for low-cost credit cards, so you may end up paying more in interest. If you refuse to hand over your Social Security number to a prospective landlord, she may not be able to run a credit check on you, which means someone else may get the apartment you want.

My point is that many of these things are in your control. Sometimes the law works against you or (more often) there are no restrictions on what corporations or the government can do with your data. But in many situations you can choose exactly how private you want to be. This book will show you how.

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