THE BLOG
06/13/2013 12:07 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013

Privacy, Mailing Lists, Surveillance

We have a right to privacy, don't we?

I am probably like many Americans who are more concerned that many employers now look at people's credit scores to see whether they're worthy enough to hire, than I am by the government's data-mining of every phone call, email and text message in the interests of national security.

Maybe because I know that the government is, in general, inept, I'm less worried by a surveillance program it's conducting -- in line with the traffic cameras, ATM video feeds and all the other devices that keep us monitored like lab rats. It doesn't matter what country's government is doing this particular surveillance -- government is inept, and despite the many algorithms that will be written to interpret the billions of bytes of data, the results will still be inept in the end. And I believe that Big Brother under the guise of Big Business is a more intrusive violation of my personal space because it impinges on my right to earn a living.

But, speaking of earning a living, as Jaron Lanier says in his new book, Who Owns the Future (he's also author of You Are Not a Gadget), "People are gradually making themselves poorer than they need to be," by offering up all sorts of information to businesses free (he wrote about this, too, in a recent New York Times article, about how business profits from people offering up their information).

I write this as the story of the NSA Prism program and its overreaching into citizen surveillance continues to be debated, following the leaks by the apparently self-seeking Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed to the press the surveillance program under the guise of valuing privacy.

Now, I don't pry into other people's personal lives. But in the work I do as a marketer, I like to gather the email addresses of many people so that I might offer them services for me and my clients. It's part of the way of doing business today -- and one of the things that troubles some observers. If it goes too far, it's bad for democracy -- no one wants to live under an all-surveillance state.

Unfortunately, we're almost there regardless. Consider the targeted advertising you receive after you click on something. Consider the recommendations for you on Amazon or iTunes, based on what you've browsed or bought.

But I'm okay if, at some point, people are paid for the information they give up. If it makes my business better (and in this way of information-selling, I'll be paid too for what I offer).

I'm grateful for the earnest discussions that Lanier has prompted, as well as the nationwide talk about government surveillance. The digital intrusiveness that Lanier describes is more pernicious, perhaps, since it has become so prevalent. And because most businesses aren't as incompetent as governments.

I'm not a busybody, even if I'm just a marketer looking to amass a mailing list and appeal to people for a particular reason based on what they say they need. I don't care whom they call or text. I wouldn't know what to do with that information, anyway. And, I suspect, the government doesn't know what to do with it, either.