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When Privacy is Sacred… But Cheap
[ Weblog - Ed Gottsman - May 13, 2004 ]
Transport for London has created a mild furor by
offering monthly or seasonal smart cards good for
passage on the Tube and buses. Rather than being
anonymous charge-debit-recharge cards, these store
a unique id that’s tied to you when you purchase it.
So the result is that a government agency will be
able to track your every (public transport) move.
Transport for London claims they’ll use the data
for passenger flow analysis and that it will be
saved “for a number of years.” You’re welcome
to stay anonymous if you’d like, but it’ll cost
you—you’ll have to buy daily passes, which are
significantly less convenient and more expensive
People’s initial reaction to an intrusive new
technology is usually pompous. “My privacy is
sacred! I would never let a large faceless
organization stick its nose etc., etc.” The
last major example of this was credit card
adoption in the U.S. Credit cards let a large,
faceless organization track your every purchase
and there was a lot of posturing when they were
introduced. But then realization dawned: “Hey!
This ‘credit card’ will let me purchase goods
and services without having to carry money
around! Wow! Um, never mind about that privacy
stuff.” People’s privacy objections collapse if
you offer them a little convenience or a little
money or, as with Transport for London, both.
With that insight in mind, Transport for London
is rumored to be testing an even cheaper,
even more convenient “permanent smart implant”
that monitors and reports your heart rate,
blood pressure and EEG during equipment outages
and Tube strikes.