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February 25, 2008

Privacy Schmivacy: Get Over It, Everyone Is Watching You


Not much work is getting done at WE Energies in Milwaukee. But the employees are sure busy!


Since the utility’s customer base consists of just about everyone, its customer database includes the financial information of the entire Milwaukee world. And documents in an employment case, reported by the Associated Press, reveal that employees at WE regularly help themselves to information about whoever interests them.


One guy owned rental property and looked up information about some tenants to find out if they were likely to default on the rent. A woman repeatedly accessed information about her ex-boyfriend. (So you’re really over him, then, right?)


Supposedly people were also looking up information about “local celebrities” as the AP calls them. The term “local celebrities” is generally a euphemism for the self-important doofuses who read the local news from a teleprompter in between station promotions. Why anyone would want to know their finances is a mystery to me, because I guarantee they make more than you and you’ll sit there all night trying to figure out why.


One employee went to the news media with information that a candidate for mayor was often late in paying his heating bills. The media, which loves to wring its hands about how everyone’s privacy is under assault, of course ran the story – contributing to the guy’s defeat in the election.


OK, so the jig is up. If you live in Milwaukee, unless you live and work by candlelight and heat your house with a wood stove, everyone knows your financial information. This has the entire community up in arms, of course, because everyone in America is hysterical about privacy.


There’s even a guy in Traverse City, Michigan – Larry Ponemon, interviewed by the AP for this story – who fashions himself a “privacy expert” and even went so far as to create a “think tank,” the Ponemon Institute, where I guess they sit around in a tank all day and think about privacy.


I think that one good Institute involves another, so I’m going to start my own institute that reflects my own view on the question of privacy. I’m going to call it the “Get Over It Everyone Is Watching You Institute.”


The GOIEIWY Institute. Pronounced the way it’s spelled.


Now don’t misunderstand me. I wouldn’t want everyone seeing me naked or anything like that. At least not until I work out a little. But if you ask me, which you didn’t, everyone is becoming just a bit over-the-edge on the question of privacy. And it couldn’t happen at a worse time in history.


Look. What’s your name? It’s what? OK, thanks. Within one minute, I can find out your age, who you’re married to, who you used to be married to, who your former roommates are and where you work. I can find out every city where you’ve ever lived.


That’s what I can do in one minute. If I work at it a little bit, I can probably find out if you pay your bills on time, if you’ve been fired from a job, if you have a criminal record and if you like sauerkraut on your hot dogs.


And this is just what I can find out about you if you don’t have a MySpace.


I hate to tell you this, but there is no such thing as privacy on 21st Century Planet Earth. If you’re the kind of person who’s freaked out by this, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time wandering around the bus terminal looking over your shoulder at geeks with laptops, wondering if they’re reading about you. (They are.)


Me? I don’t care. There’s nothing very interesting to know about me, so if you want a cure for insomnia, have a look. Get over it. Everyone is watching you.


At the GOIEIWY Institute, we celebrate our shared exposure. Bob is bankrupt. Felicia is a felon. Cody is a cross-dresser. Everyone knows!


Look at it this way: If you put a classified ad in the paper, you feel fortunate if a few people see it. If everyone’s private information is available to everyone, what are the chances anyone is going to find their way to yours? And if they do, what are they going to care? They can find out if a “local celebrity” has paid his utility bills. What have you got to compete with that?


There’s no privacy, folks. It’s 2008, and your secrets are out. I just looked at them.


You’re even more boring than I am.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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