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Have you ever wondered why the Google Search Engine and Facebook are free? Did you ever think about who would put up millions to first develop and then support such a huge endeavor? Who would finance it and why?

I’ve thought about this before, but today I heard an interesting interview by Katherine Albrecht (Harvard doctorate) that confirmed what I’ve known for a while. The real business that those free sites are in is information – your information. Big Data. That’s where the money is. Later I’ll give one of her solutions – it’s a good one and one that I’ve already implemented.

We have (as a society) traded our personal information for what these sites are providing for so long now that the new generation takes it for granted that it’s OK – and that it’s safe to do. Very few news items are about stolen personal information and when we hear it, we thank goodness it wasn’t us and we continue on without another thought (at least most of us).

The truth is that any time that kind of information is stored on a hard drive anywhere, it becomes a target for hackers and for the government, as well. Katherine mentioned that the NSA forced Google to build a back door into the data for them. And we all think that’s OK – they are just looking to protect us, but there is a fine line there.

What we know for sure is that marketers are making money off knowing your preferences. We know that Google and Facebook tailor their results and ads, respectively, based on your previous selections and from keywords that you’ve used. Everything you’ve done or said on those sites (and all free sites) is kept in a database and will be sold to advertisers.

If you’ve ever mentioned or searched on anything to do with bankruptcy, you’ll get ads about credit repair, loans for people with bad credit, credit applications, etc. If you’ve mentioned that you are a Democrat or Republican, the information that you are presented is based on that point of view – so it’s actually hard to get exposure to new information when everything is skewed to your preferences. This is both censoring and manipulation in one fell swoop.

Maybe you’ve heard about the latest Facebook manipulation – where they presented some people with totally negative information and ads and others with positive – and then they tracked where they went from there on the internet, tracked their responses all around. Since the mood was proven to perpetuate, you have to wonder if they pushed anyone over the edge with their little “test” – if it cost any lives in the process. That’s a disturbing thought.

You’ve probably heard of the new apps that track where you are from your cell phone (they all have geo-locators built in now) and push out text ads of local restaurants and attractions. But that’s not all that info is used for – it’s stored, analyzed and sold as well.

So the real question is, how much privacy are you willing to trade for these services?

What’s coming next is the real shocker, but we’ve all been groomed to accept this new technological tracking – RFID tags.

Have you seen that refrigerators can now tell you when you’re out of something you normally keep? Temperature control, lighting control and smoke detectors can track wherever you are in your house and respond accordingly, saving you money on electric bills.

Newer housing will have this built in – for our convenience. They can push that data back and sell it – it’s worth millions to companies that build homes and finance them. That’s expected, but not the real shocker – it’s still to come.

I know that I’ve responded to the idea that they will someday want to implant RFID tags into our bodies as a joke – who would ever allow that? It’s ridiculous to think we’ll just “accept” that as part of life some day. However, now I see how it can be done without any resistance whatsoever – by making our lives easier over time – even over generations.

If you’ve seen the movie “In Time”, you can see how easy it would be to pay for things by waving your implanted RFID tag under a reader instead of having to carry your wallet around. Funny – I spent half the day in panic looking for mine. Problem is, it doesn’t stop with providing convenience – it creates another product for sale.

Katherine, in the interview today, talked about a new search engine called Start Page – they do not track your personal information, they are based out of the Netherlands, so the NSA can’t demand they provide personal information, and they provide unbiased results. They even provide email, for an extremely reasonable price (Start Mail) because they know that Google stores every gmail sent (and sells that info, too).

Start Mail uses strong encryption, but the caveat is that whoever you are sending the email to has to have Start Mail to read it. (Will this be called smail?) I see this more for corporate use – to protect business strategy and communication, because most individual people feel like they have nothing to hide. My problem with this thinking is, while you may be (or are) struggling financially, someone is benefitting from that.

This whole debate gets a lot deeper when you think about the implications, and I’d really like some feedback on this because I think about it and encourage you to do the same. Only with thoughtful realization and debate comes real freedom. Maybe Snowden sacrificed everything for a reason – maybe one person can change the world.

What is your position on the privacy vs. convenience market? Are you concerned about identity theft?

Dawn Cassara supports small business and solutions – read her other articlesand follow as she grows her network to provide quality content and debate.

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Dawn Cassara
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