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The Poster Child of Irony: NSA vs Walmart [226*6]

Updated on January 10, 2014

NSA AND WALMART, EH? Why is it that I feel it is OK to put both of these large organizations into the same sentence? My answer is because both invade your and my privacy without your explicit permission and maintain large metadata files on the people in our society while Walmart goes even further and keeps an electronic dossier on each of you!

What brought this juxtaposition into focus was this morning I heard a CNN story on how retailers track your every move, every purchase, every web click on an item that interests you, and much, much more. Then, going to work, I listened to a roundtable about how intrusive the NSA is in gathering metadata about overall behaviour, like which phone numbers are calling which others and flagging those who have multiple numbers in common along with a suspect foreign terrorist suspect.

What struck me as horribly ironic is that while Democrats and gleeful Republicans wring their hands in faux anguish about the "overreach" of the NSA in protecting our security while at the same time turning a very blind eye, in the case of Republicans, to the order of magnitude larger and more personal poking around in our private lives by Corporate America; and for what purpose ... to make a buck, isn't it; to separate your money from your wallet. Why is that OK and what the NSA is doing horrid?

I would really like to know.

While the NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, Army, Navy, Air Force, and a myriad of other acronyms, all collect intelligence data important to their mission, it is all being done in the name of National Security. Whether enough is being done to protect our rights are protected from government intrusion is an extremely important open question; one which I suspect the answer is a resounding "No", but it is not relevant to the question of what government agencies should be looking at. In my opinion, the appropriate agencies ought to be looking at whatever is needed to protect us from foreign and domestic terror.

If you can agree to that premise, then you can get down to ascertaining if the government is doing it in such a way as to not violate our fundamental rights to privacy. But what to do about Corporate spying on individual Americans? Well, it seems nobody wants to do much of anything about this even more intrusive invasion privacy. It seems that so long as the purpose is to earn a profit, invade away, it;s OK; the people don't seem to care and politicians certainly could give a damn, they are to busy castigating Obama and the NSA for trying to protect us. It is better press, isn't it?

How intrusive is corporate spying on America and how pervasive is the ability of corporate America to make us do something we aren't necessarily predisposed to do? It is a deprivation of our rights and a degree of coercion that is beyond belief, really the stuff of science fiction, actually. Did you know that when you are in Macy's, besides Macy's, there are dozens of other companies who know you are there simultaneously; in fact Macy's may even know what aisle you are currently shopping in. And, while you are there, they are enveloping you in scents which coax you to buy whatever it is you are looking at. Hours and days prior to you shopping there, you have been bombarded with subtle and not so subtle advertizing from a variety of sources, e.g., TV, radio, newspapers, Internet, billboards, and the like.



AS IT PERTAINS TO GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY, I am firmly on the side of allowing, with proper oversight by both Congress and the Judiciary. For sure, the current arrangement is not satisfactory at all.

Regarding Corporate America's invasion of our privacy, which at the moment is totally unregulated with no adult supervision. But, is that necessarily a bad thing for America? I am actually undecided on that point. There is no question is a major ethical problem with corporations gather and storing such detailed information, but is it worth it? That question begs the next question of "what is the upside" to that corporate spying?

As I see it, from a pragmatic point of view, this privacy invasion is good for the economy. No, I am not being sarcastic, I actually mean it. You have to answer exactly the same question regardless of whether you are talking about the NSA or Walmart which is "are the benefits from their activities greater than than the negatives from the loss of some of our privacy?" In the first case, the benefit is national security and in the second it is, arguably, improved economic growth.

I say "arguably" because it may not actually help at all. I may write another hub digging into this question but for now let it suffice to say there is a case to be made for it. Briefly, it could unfold in this fashion. By monitoring your purchasing habits and developing tailored marketing to take advantage of that knowledge about you, you will more likely to buy something, thereby increasing demand.

With increasing demand comes increased production, increased hiring, increased investing in new plants and equipment, and so forth until the cycle repeats itself. That would be one theory anyway and at the moment I don't defend it or argue against it; I simply don't know enough yet to posit a position.

But, if it were true, would that be sufficient for you to give up some of your rights to privacy in order to benefit from an improved economy. Do you care enough that somebody is watching where you go, what you buy, what you even look at? Do you care that companies are filling the air, literally with odors which entice you to buy a certain product. For example, amplifying the smell of new leather in a furniture store or in a large home decorations store, keeping the fresh scent of orange in the air, as to a more complex scent of orange and basil or no particular scent at all would increase sales by, in some studies, 20%. It is called "scent marketing" which, bluntly speaking, tricks you into buying something you might have bought otherwise.

I offer these examples up in order to get you thinking about this, maybe write your own hubs on the issue while I ponder as well.



IN BOTH SCENARIOS, GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE SNOOPING, there are upsides to it. The question isn't whether either should be allowed do it or not, for there is at least some degree of intelligence gathering on citizens that is Constitutional from the outset and probably even desirable. But, beyond that point we must ask ourselves whether the benefits, supposed or real, gained are worth the loss of our privacy.

The world is not as it was in 1789, when the U.S. Constitution, that model of compromise, went into effect. The only effective "terrorist" attack, as we understand the term today, was an actual invasion by another country. Even in the event of individual acts of terror, none could be on the scale of 9/11, nor have its world-wide devastating impact and any that did occur would be at the hands of a definable, sovereign nation and not some faceless, amorphous group with an ideological message to send.

Even the terrorist acts of colonial "patriots" didn't raise to the level of concern which we have today (although the acts of terrorism, aggression, and genocide by newly-minted Americans on Native Americans certainly did). Consequently, the writers of the Constitution did not have an historical basis from which to include safeguards in the Constitution to define what is proper and improper government activity to protect ourselves in such an event. Nor did they have the great prescience needed to foresee the technological advances which allow the unbelievable ability of Corporate America to pick apart our every move and desire to design protection from that either. Nor did they build in prohibitions to stop us from protecting ourselves.

Consequently, we must decide what to do which is in our own best 'collective' interest; we have that power. But, do we want to exercise it? And, if we do, to what degree? One thing is for certain, if this isn't a collective decision and ends up being every person for themselves because they don't agree with what is best for the whole, then defeat is a foregone conclusion; the bad guys will win.

Personally, I am OK with what the information the government is collecting. What I AM NOT OK with, is the poor oversight of those doing the collecting. Taking an idea from a guy who works for me and is an order of magnitude to the Right, at the very least there ought to be a public advocate at the hearings to give the go-ahead for a particular spying activity. Judges are there to decide between two opposing parties using the Constitution and other rulings as their guidebook. The current FISA Court only has the prosecution and the judge, there is no defense counsel to protect our interests, and there should be.

Further, I am undecided on the level of my uncomfortableness, to coin a word, with the degree that Corporate America can monitor me. Do I think that government should be able to set limits on this activity? In the words of one famous Vice Presidential candidate, You Betcha'.

With that, just let me say this Hub isn't to answer any questions, just posit possibilities and raise ideas to consider. I hope you take the time to do that ... and answer my poll questions.


Were You Aware of the Degree of Spying Corporate America Does on Individual Citizens?

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Who is Collecting Too Much Intelligence on YOU?

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With Proper Oversight, Do You Think It Is OK for the Government to Collect More Intelligence on You in Order to Protect You?

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Should the Government Do More Control Corporate America's Ability to Collect Intelligence on American Citizens

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Do You Lean To The ...

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Are You

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© 2013 Scott Belford


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    • profile image

      bradmaster from orange county ca 

      4 years ago

      My Esoteric

      As for corporate use of private information, we have no protection. And such protection would come from congress through laws to protect our information.

      The advent of computers and the Internet allowed the private sector to capture, retain, and share what should be private information.

      How many hits do we get in screening over 800 million passengers a day? How many of the breaches at airports have actually occurred through employees, and behind the scense areas of the airports, that are not covered by the TSA screening process.

      The airports themselves are not protected, as evidenced by breaches such as the one at LAX where a single gunman took over the airport for a short time. If that breach had been done by a militant team, it would make the school massacres look small in comparison.

      You don't have to get a bomb on a plane to kill or injure large numbers of people. The airport itself has all the ingredients of being a terrorist festival. My point the TSA is only an illusion of protection for airlines, and airline passengers.

      So in conclusion there is no redeeming reason for our privacy to be compromised by either the government or the private sector.


      The private sector uses the membership concept to extract personal information about the members. An good example of that is Costco. They not only photo copy your driver's license, but they keep track of every item you purchase there. This even includes cash purchases.

      Even the movie theaters have reward cards that track the movies, and the food you buy.

      Supermarkets also give discounts to their members. When in actuality these so called loyalty cards, can be replaced by giving those same prices to all their customers. And the customers will be loyal because of the low prices.

      End User Licenses for software are adhesion contracts that have no negoitioation, and are unilateral take it or leave it contracts.

      This area has been lax by congress in not putting the light on these types of contracts. These contracts are prevalent in the membership contracts as well as many other agreements.

      And to call a non negotible documents and agreement or contract changes the conept of what is a legal contract.

      This includes to post employment use of the At Will Employment Contract. The only response to all these instruments is yes, I agree or no, in which case you are out.

      Take a basic course in contracts, and none of these fit the legal definition, but because there is no enforcement of these documents they become de facto legal instruments.

      Yet, the result is a loss of choice be the people.

      Through all of these infringements on privacy, your life can be documented better than any person diary.

      Between the government and private intrusions on your private information, you walk through your life naked, and vunerable.

      The SS id is the skeleton key to your personal identity, and the government can't protect their own data, much less protect you from identity theft.

      People mistakenly think that just because they are honest and have nothing to hide, that it is OK for the government and the private sector to open fully your Kimono at their discretion.

      These people are the most vulnerable to identity theft.

      RICO numbers are another unsolicited use of your private information.

      The bottom line is that your personal information is held by the government and they require only a technicality of complying with the 4th Amendment. And with little to no effort can extract your personal information that has been compiled by the private sector.

      The bottom line is that both the government and the private sector are infringements of your personal privacy.

      The government extracted its dominion over your privacy based on your fear of terrorists. So you tacitly give then authorization to invade your privacy. On a one of a billion chance that they will find something that will protect the country. These odds are not sufficient to give up your privacy.

      The government will sift through the emense volume of private personal information on the guise of looking for Terrorism, but in actuality they are not prevented from using whatever information they find that is not related to terrorism.

      This is the issue and the problem of the Patriot Act and the NSA personal data collection.

      The private sector entices people with discounts, but that price is a loss of your privacy.

      The private sector as well as the public sector can use your smartphone's GPS to track you. So can hackers and stalkers, yet too many people see the personal advantage and discount the criminal aspect of it when it is abused without your knowledge or consent.

      Credit cards with RFID chips can be hacked simply by virtue of you walking around with it unprotected.

      There are numersous examples of our loss of privacy by both the government and the private sector. Unfortunately, most people are ignorant about the danger of them not caring about their personal privacy.

    • profile image

      bradmaster from orange county ca 

      4 years ago

      My Esoteric

      Both the government and the private corporations gather too much information.

      The whole 911 attack had people running to have the government protect them. In essence, they are not being any better protected throught the cessation of constitutional rights.

      There have been many books written on how people can be tricked into thinking that invasions of their privacy will help protect them, But this is a ploy by the government to get around the protections of the constitutional that do benefit the people.

      The Patriot Act is an example of that, and it makes legal the uncosntitutional activities of the NSA, and broadens that illegality under the umbrella of a created artificial protection.

      Now all the govenrment agencies can do what the NSA has been doing, and now they have the garb of legality, but it is only a veneer.

      What they are doing is wrong, and they have taken advantage of the fear of the people caused by 911, which shouldn't have been able to happen if the government did their job. At the least the attack should have been mitigated, to just the first WTC building.


    • My Esoteric profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Thank you both for your thoughts, I appreciate and support them.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 

      5 years ago from Corona, California.

      There is an easy solution, don't use credit cards. Pay cash or deal with the outcome. Greg

    • profile image

      Fred Appell 

      5 years ago

      I'm not as bothered by the government's ability and willingness to spy on us so much as I am about having private contractors performing the same duty. The government has checks and balances that it must adhere to, could the same be said for the private contractors (e.g. Edward Snowden)?

      There needs to be a clearer definition in our laws that better determine what is private and what is public, it seems to me that the line between the two is somewhat murky.

      I'm deeply troubled over the fact that large commercial companies are also tracking and collecting personal data from us. They buy and sell that information all in the hope of turning a profit. I find it degrading to be reduced to nothing but a cog in the machine that is consumerism.

      It is unfortunate that we have given private business the permission to

      use us in this manner, we sign our names knowing the terms and conditions therefore voluntarily forfeiting our privacy. We need laws that make sense, laws that restrict contracts from certain language that would allow for such abuses.

    • My Esoteric profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Thanks for your thoughts, Jaye, Happy New Year to you as well.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      When you're on the Internet, you can be sure your movements online are being recorded. If you look at a product, you can count on "relevant" ads popping up on your screen to "remind" you to buy it.

      If you're a member of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg probably has more information about you than any other single entity in the world and knows more about you than your family does!

      I believe that a certain amount of government survellience is needed and inevitable to suss out terrorists and protect the citizenry. However, I agree with you that it should not be an open-ended situation. Stringent checks and balances are needed. Yes, more than one responsible adult needs to be watching what the NSA does and keeping that agency reined in.

      As for corporations, I resent their intrusion into my life. Yet I realize that I can't buy products online without unleashing tracking cookies to monitor my every move. It seems to be one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" circumstances. We need technology, but it almost rules our lives.

      Voted Up+++

      Happy New Year....JAYE


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