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Feel like you're being watched? It's because YOU ARE....

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NSA, Google, Facebook and formerly Nordstrom are watching you

'Big Data' is watching you
July 16, 2013 12:05 am

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By Ken Dilanian / Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON --- Not long before headlines exposed National Security Agency programs that secretly collect records of Americans' phone calls, another surveillance system got far less attention: Nordstrom, the department store chain, acknowledged it was tracking customers without their knowledge in 17 stores.

Nordstrom had hired a company to log a unique number emitted by shoppers' smartphones, which automatically connected to Wi-Fi systems as they moved through the stores. Shortly after a Dallas TV station broke the story in May, Nordstrom announced it was discontinuing the program.

The company that sold the tracking service, Euclid Analytics, has tracked 50 million devices in 4,000 locations for 100 corporate and other customers, its founder has said. Shoppers are free to opt out, but the process is complex -- they must enter their phone's media access control address, known as a MAC address, on Euclid's website.

Self-confessed leaker Edward Snowden's disclosures about domestic spying by the NSA have sparked a broad debate about whether the government is using sophisticated surveillance and data-mining techniques on its own citizens without sufficient oversight.

PG graphic: How they track you
(Click image for larger version)

But information gathered and exploited by Internet giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook -- and traded by lesser-known data brokers such as Datalogix and Acxiom -- can be more revealing than what the NSA can legally collect on most Americans. Few consumers understand what data are being shared, with whom, or how the information is being used.

"We normally think of the NSA as being far ahead of corporate America, but I'm not so sure they are that far ahead anymore," said Mark Herschberg, chief technology officer at Madison Logic, a New York-based company that provides data for advertisers.

"There are thousands of companies out there collecting information on customers, and together they are really aggregating quite a bit of data," he added. "Google is reading through your email. Amazon is looking at not just what you buy, but what you shop for."

The collection and analysis of consumer information in bulk is enabled by what has been dubbed the "Big Data" revolution -- the combination of digitization, cheap storage, robust computing power and sophisticated analytics that allows experts to find correlations in ever-expanding pools of data.

Most Americans emit a stream of personal digital exhaust -- what they search for, what they buy, who they communicate with, where they are -- that is captured and exploited in a largely unregulated fashion. The information can be used by identity thieves, insurance companies, prospective employers or opponents in a civil lawsuit.

"How do I express my privacy requirements? Increasingly, it means I have shut off my phone and become a digital hermit," said Ian Glazer, a vice president at Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company.

In addition to privacy threats, he said, "there is a fundamental problem with fairness, in the sense that I am generating all this data about me through my devices, and these organizations are harvesting it and making a profit off it."

Google says it uses algorithms, not humans, to mine the content of Gmail messages. Thus if someone sends a digital note about an upcoming trip, the computer may generate an ad for an airline or hotel.

Amazon and other companies track online shoppers and display ads for items their customers perused as they browse other websites. Retailer Target was able to use purchasing patterns to figure out when women were pregnant and target ads accordingly.

Smartphones double as tracking devices, sending periodic signals that disclose their locations. Though the NSA says it does not collect that information about Americans, numerous popular applications, including the game "Angry Birds" and Yelp, do so for their developers, using precise coordinates from cell towers and GPS systems. Some sell the data to third parties.

Mobile carriers, including Verizon Wireless, have begun selling aggregate location data. Verizon, on its website, promises advertisers "detailed demographics; location analysis to determine where your target consumer segment lives and works; and foot-and-mobile traffic habits," though not names or phone numbers.

Officials at Euclid, the company that helped Nordstrom track its customers, declined to comment.

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by on Jul. 16, 2013 at 8:34 AM
Replies (31-40):
by on Jul. 16, 2013 at 7:49 PM

It's the principle.

Quoting ihave1:

Who cares if you are not doing anything wrong, who cares!

by Silver Member on Jul. 16, 2013 at 10:06 PM

This is why the IRS scandal was so alarming.      The fact that the intent is to use the data responsibly in specific ways doesn't mean squat.    People who have access can and will (as shown by Snowden) use it in other ways.    

If there's any information out there that you'd prefer your neighbors,  friends,   customers,  vendors,   boss,  co-workers,   family,   courts,   ex's,  etc. etc. etc.  not to know,    you should care.     Information can be used/abused  to create impressions,   reputations,   etc.  that you have no control over.    The fact that you're doing nothing wrong doesn't mean you can't be harmed.

by Teflon Don on Jul. 16, 2013 at 11:17 PM
Quoting rfurlongg:

 I wish I say I am surprised, but I am not.

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Breastfeeding tickers

by Bronze Member on Jul. 16, 2013 at 11:44 PM

Wow!  Seriously?

Quoting ihave1:

Who cares if you are not doing anything wrong, who cares!

by Bronze Member on Jul. 17, 2013 at 12:17 AM
That is crazy :)

Quoting Kate_Momof3:

 Photo: The NSA (from

by Member on Jul. 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Yes seriously.  So what the fucks your problem. 

Quoting karisma22:

Wow!  Seriously?

Quoting ihave1:

Who cares if you are not doing anything wrong, who cares!

by Member on Jul. 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Yes, that's true I suppose. 

Quoting Mrs.Salz:

It's the principle.

Quoting ihave1:

Who cares if you are not doing anything wrong, who cares!

by Lois Lane on Jul. 17, 2013 at 12:12 PM

I guarantee you if the roles were reversed, and customers were hacking into Nordstrom's internet access, they'd be having a shit fit. But hey, it's OK to personally violate their customers without any forewarning. That is my problem with it. If you're going to do it, post signs telling people you are accessing information on their smartphones for your own purposes. 

Quoting ihave1:

Yes, that's true I suppose. 

Quoting Mrs.Salz:

It's the principle.

Quoting ihave1:

Who cares if you are not doing anything wrong, who cares!

by on Jul. 17, 2013 at 12:15 PM

I did not know this about fb. I think it may be time for fb and I to part ways. I have been considering it for a while. I think it is time.

Quoting cjsbmom:

And just so everyone knows, FB also has added something called a "graphics app" that allows anyone on your friends list to share photos you posts with anyone they choose. So even if you have your settings on private or "friends only," they can still share them. 

That is the kind of stuff that pisses me off as well. And the only way to turn it off is to ask everyone on your friends list to do it for you. Why? Why should I have to rely on my friends to do that? Why can't it be an option *I* choose? 

I think the days of my FB account are numbered. 

by Bronze Member on Jul. 17, 2013 at 12:17 PM
1 mom liked this

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