Most of us have learned to be very careful when we’re online. We don’t give out our Social Security number or any private information that we don’t want others knowing. As a result, we’re safe from strangers knowing all kinds of things about us that we want to keep private, right? Wrong.
I was Googling something the other day when an ad on the right side of the page caught my eye. It was a service that could search for people and find out all kinds of things like where they lived, their e-mails, their birthdays, the names of their spouses and children, and much more.
I wasn’t tempted to check out someone else, but I was curious about how much this company knew about me. For free, they gave me the names of my wife and kids, and promised to give me more information if I used a paid service. Since my primary job is saving my readers from doing anything foolish, I checked the box and committed to a small fee. They listed my age and date of birth, and my address and phone number. They also told me I didn’t have any liens on our property, they did a criminal check, and gave me the names of neighbors. It seems that it would be a lot more neighborly just to introduce myself to my neighbors in person, but I’m obviously not living in Cyber Space 2010.
They had my correct age and date of birth, and, If they want to send me a birthday present, they’ve got my address. They know how much we paid for our house, and the size of it. Actually, they were somewhat short on the house size. They didn’t count our finished basement. Maybe their electronic spies missed it when they made their cyber visit. And they gave us an extra bedroom. I hope this doesn’t mean that they think there’s an extra room that they can use for one of their people to spend the night.
They said I had no criminal record, so I guess they don’t count parking tickets. They claim there are no registered sex offenders in our neighborhood. In terms of other crimes, burglary and vehicle theft are listed as “average.” I don’t know if this means that the crooks do an average job when they steal something, or if we have the average number of thefts in our area. They had all kinds of statistics including the claim that a whopping 52 percent of my neighbors have masters’ degrees. If they’re so smart, why can’t they remember to put on their turn signals?
I immediately realized that if I can find out so much about me, so can everyone else in the world. And no, I still wasn’t tempted to check out anyone else. The whole thing made me feel like I’d be peeking in someone’s window, going through their garbage, or tracking down their old math teacher. So I called the company to cancel everything. I asked the woman on the phone, “Don’t you feel like this whole thing is a bit creepy?”
Not surprisingly, she did not, and said she’s a customer as well as an employee. She touted the ability to check out a possible employee like a nanny. She also said you could find an old friend whom you had lost touch with. My feeling is, if I’ve gotten along this well without them, I can stay out of touch. I added, “Aren’t you concerned about that annoying kid from elementary school tracking you down?”
She answered, “If you’re worried about somebody like that finding you, you can check the box that doesn’t allow your records to be public.”
I responded, “I’m not worried about the annoying kid from school finding me. I was the annoying kid.” I was just using that as an example.
So, I resigned my membership a few minutes after I had joined. However, we all know that there are many companies like this that can tap into our computers and find out all kinds of things about us: what products we buy, whom we e-mail the most, and probably if we picked up after our dog this morning (I did). It doesn’t seem to matter how careful we are, “they” will find out more about us than they should. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if I get an e-mail in a few minutes from one of these companies saying something like, “Who are you kidding? Those socks you’re wearing don’t go with your pants.”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.