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GOOD REASON - OR PRIVACY TREASON?

The U.S. magazine Reason achieved a startling technological advance last month, when it distributed its June issue with a different cover, custom-designed for each of its 40,000 subscribers. It showed a satellite aerial photo of their neighbourhood with their house circled. Below the map was their name in large type followed by the words, 'They Know Where You Are! The unsung benefits of a database nation.'

Inside, the magazine gave a frightening glimpse of the extent to which the internet's prying eyes can reveal many details of what we used to think were our private lives. Readers could find out how many of their neighbours were college educated, and even the percentage of children in their zip code area who were being raised by their grandparents.


When Kevin Malin scooped up the mail that had dropped into his garage through a slot, he did a double take. "At first glance, I read 'Kevin, they're out to get you.'" What he saw was his name in large type on the cover of the June issue of Reason magazine and an aerial photo of his Tulsa, Okla, neighborhood with a red circle in the middle, near his home. The actual cover line is, "They Know Where You Are!" "It was kind of spooky," says Malin, a long-time subscriber, who soon concluded that it was also "really neat."
- From a story by Aileen Jacobson, in Newsday (New York).

In a February 2003 Harris poll, 69 percent of those surveyed agreed that 'consumers have lost all control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.'
- From 'Database Nation' by Declan McCullagh.


"Living in a database nation raises innumerable privacy concerns," Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie wrote in the June issue of the magazine, which is described as a libertarian publication. "But it also makes life easier and more prosperous. We may have kissed privacy goodbye -- and good riddance, too."

In a later article by Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times, Gillespie said 'The customization of the magazine was a nifty experiment and a great promotional opportunity for everyone involved. A team of a dozen people in six states, from Connecticut to Arkansas to California, spent several months collating data and publishing test copies before realizing the final product. It was a very difficult task of orchestration. None of the main people involved were in the same time zone, much less the same office. The first step was compiling information.'

The magazine showed a street map of the subscriber's neighbourhood with directions to their street, plus information such as their neighbourhood's population, median income, median age, and number of people per household.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the response from readers has been mixed. One subscriber, a former Reason writer, said the mail clerks wanted to keep his copy because their post office was featured on the cover. Others were "freaked out" by such sensational use of personal information.

REASON is the monthly print magazine of 'free minds and free markets'. It covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. Reason provides a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity. - From Reason Foundation's website.

 

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Story first posted July 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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