Not that I really need any corroborating evidence that the way the general public treats its private data has marked similarities to the way cats present themselves when on heat – a theme I began expanding on substantially here – but occasionally I still run into stuff that flabbergasts even me.

People in general have no shame, no dignity and not even the slightest interest in pondering the potential consequences of doing what is the data equivalent of streaking down Main St. at peak hour. All anyone needs to do it seems in order to harvest people’s personal information is simply ask. Mark Zuckerberg knows it very well, and wants to thank about half a billion imbeciles for making him richer than he ever thought possible (or deserved). His sentiments about privacy and end users have been captured (and verified) by Business Insider for all (a personal chat log, privacy be damned) –

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Zuckerberg has since distanced himself  from statements like these and vacillates incoherently between expressing concern for user privacy and stating that privacy is dead and any concerns about it are the ravings of paranoids. Yet Facebook still remains the greatest ever assault against the public’s privacy the planet has ever seen. While the public face is that of egalitarianism and philanthropy, the reality is that it is an attempt to catalogue and profile the entire human race into a readily accessible direct sales and marketing database.

As appalling as all of this is, it is not yet terminal. Some of us saw this kind of pervasive data harvesting and mining coming a decade ago and have been fastidious with our data – I wear it as a badge of pride that after 20 years online, as far as the ‘net is concerned, the flesh and blood me doesn’t exist. And it is still possible (though not as easy as it should be) with services like Facebook to remove your private data permanently. There is also the hope stirring that some governments have finally woken up to privacy abuse and may take the legislative route to make it easier for you to use the web without selling your soul. So the big privacy abusers are not really that much of a concern – providing you take an interest in protecting yourself.

Of far greater concern, and what prompted this post, are the smaller players in this game. Articles such as today’s one from the Sydney Sun Herald are appearing more and more often –

You want a drink? Give us your fingerprints


THOUSANDS of clubbers and pub patrons are being forced to submit to fingerprint and photographic scans to enter popular venues, seemingly unaware of the ramifications of handing over their identity.

Biometric scanners, once the domain of James Bond movies, are flooding the pub market as the fix-all solution to violence and antisocial behaviour. The pubs are exerting more power than the police or airport security by demanding photos, fingerprints and ID. Police can only do it if they suspect someone of committing a crime and they must destroy the data if the person is not charged or found not guilty.

Yet one company boasts that the sensitive information collected about patrons can be kept for years and shared with other venues in the country – in what appears to be a breach of privacy laws.

There are no official checks and balances on how the data is collected, stored, used or shared. Federal Privacy Commissioner Tim Pilgrim has warned he does not have the power to audit the systems and the lack of regulation has even industry players calling for tighter controls. [full article]

This is beyond simply outrageous. Fingerprints, photos, addresses, DoBs, scans of driver’s licenses, or in the case of tourists, passports. Harvested by unregulated cowboy “security” companies, all collated into databases which are then traded with other similar operators. Privacy policy? You jest. Comply or go home. Preying on the young and the stupid that are already drunk and/or horny. No oversight, no controls.

It’s easy to say “boycott such venues”, but that is entirely forgetting that you’re not exactly dealing with rocket scientists here. These are folks that will happily hand over whatever details are required without a second thought, then go and snap a bunch of highly embarrassing camera phone pics once inside and post them to Facebook first chance they get. The clientelle of these types of venues are, to be polite, idiots to begin with.

There is no way of knowing where all of this data is going to end up. There are no rules, no procedures, no way of knowing who will handle it. It’s just data on a disk. And it’s data that could quite easily, in sufficient volume, fetch quite a good price for its identity theft value from some Hong Kong crime syndicate.

If our governments take no interest in this kind of blatant abuse of power by private security companies, I think at the very least our banks should. Because at the end of the day, the fraud will be targeting them and they are the ones that will be paying.