I returned from my bike trip (see here and here) almost a month ago. Veloce Bicycles in Portland (excellent store) packed our bikes and FedEx delivered them to my house last week–except for mine. I was in Maine when FedEx arrived and didn’t learn my bike was missing until Monday morning. The tracking data showed the bike arrived at the FedEx Portland facility on July 2, and then nothing save a cryptic note it was being returned to Veloce. FedEx did not return it to Veloce and could not tell me where it was. Finally, after three days of calls (on a 1-10 scale with 10 high, I am pleased to report my testiness didn’t get higher than 3.5) I found myself on the phone with a woman from the FedEx facility in Connecticut. My bike got as far east as Willington, CT–so close!–before label problems stopped its progress. My bike case had two labels, a delivery waybill inside a FedEx pouch (if you’ve used them you know these pouches grip like grim death) and an ID label completely covered and taped to the case with overlapping strips of 2″-wide clear plastic shipping tape. Somehow both labels fell off. Hard to fathom, since they were attached to the case in different spots that would not be subject to the same abrasive forces simultaneously, but that’s FedEx’s story and they’re sticking to it. Because FedEx didn’t know where to deliver the bike case or who to call they sent it to their national lost and found–in Salt Lake City, 2/3 of the way back to Portland. Must be one big building. There FedEx located my errant bike last night. It starts eastward today. Some bike. It didn’t even send a postcard of Temple Square.
Bruce Schneier is the founder of Counterpane Security and writes extensively about all manner of security issues. Last night after posting Privacy Calls I read an article he wrote last month titled Facebook and Data Control, about September’s Facebook news feed controversy (mentioned on my blog post Losing Face(book)?). He makes the point that information privacy–the privacy of the “bits of ourselves we leave at every step“–is about “who you choose to disclose information to, how, and for what purpose.” “People are willing to share all types of information,” he says, “as long as they are in control.” Facebook’s mistake was rolling out its news feed feature, by which Facebook users receive “news” about their friends (“Amy Lee and Jason Smith are now friends” “Marty Fisher joined the group I Wish I Lived in Phoenix“) when they log on, with the default choice being that all changes to a user’s profile were fodder for news feeds. Users protested swiftly and Facebook changed the feature to allow users to choose the information they share. They can, for example, let their friends know automatically when they add a friend but opt out of sharing changes in relationship status.
Those details have little value by themselves. I could choose to execute the transaction in manner that leaves no data bits behind by purchasing the book for cash at a local bookseller. That takes more time and I don’t get the frequent flyer points. I opt for convenience and in exchange relinquish practical control over transactional details to others for whom they have value. They may not have value individually, but they acquire value when aggregated with other transactions by zip code or age or sex or income or education or tv-watching habits or other attributes. The digital processing of transactions, the sheer volume of information that can be collected from the tracks we leave on the Internet, the low cost of creating and maintaining databases, all make such personal data incredibly valuable–to those who collect it, sell it, and use it.
I’ll finish on the same note as the previous post, with Schneier’s words: “if [Facebook users] think they have control over their data, they’re only deluding themselves.”