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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,889

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Privacy and Paranoia

Once upon a time, I shared information about myself quite willingly.

I completed forms with honest answers.

I gave out contact information that actually enabled people to contact me, directly-- as in, I picked up the phone, or answered the door, or opened the letter.

I even responded to "marketing surveys"-- hell, I participated (for free!) in some "focus groups."

So, how then did I become the reclusive, paranoid, suspicious individual I am now-- with layers of email spam buckets and tertiary addresses routed through secondary addresses for pickup and forwarding to a primary address? With Google Voice numbers, and a cell phone I rarely answer, and more than one Post Office box?

The person who declines all kinds of "free" offers and services and conveniences, offered to me merely for the price of providing "harmless" information about myself?

The person who tells survey-takers, researchers, etc. of all types, "No, thank you, I don't do that?"

The person who "masks" information on necessary forms as much as possible, and puts "N/A" in any data field not absolutely required to get what I need-- which is the only reason I'm filling up the form at all?

How did I get that way?

Look... I always knew that a certain percentage of the information I shared was of benefit to someone who wanted to make money from me or people like me. A certain amount of that didn't bother me. Because for the most part, I trusted that
  • Most of the information I was being asked to share was, in fact, strictly functional for the purposes of a mutual transaction that would benefit both parties; and
  • The 'langniappe' of unnecessary but beneficial-to-the-asker information would generally be used in fairly benign ways.

Although my socio-politico-economic views would likely be characterized by today's standards as "extreme left," yanno what? I'm seriously NOT opposed to a certain amount of regulated, monitored capitalism, a little make-a-buck incentive there, in the market, to lubricate creativity, etc. I didn't mind enabling small amounts of that, once.

Back then.

What happened?

Simple: I lost trust.

I can no longer believe that any of the demands for information about myself from any source-- government, big corporations, websites, marketers, doctors, insurance agents, bankers, etc.-- are motivated primarily by a desire to complete transactions of mutual benefit.

Some likely are.

But I still respond with my now-conditioned paranoia, under the assumption that what they're after will be used for their sole benefit, and-- more often than not-- at my expense. To my detriment.

I'm sorry about this, I really am. I'm probably blowing off a fair number of legitimate opportunities to make positive connections for real mutual benefit. Which is sad. I don't like that. But there it is. The cost/benefit ratio has flipped, and my confidence interval that such requests are made with the intent of eventually screwing me somehow has exceeded 98%.

Here's an example:

I have a nice primary care physician. A competent, caring woman. But, like many physicians, she has been increasingly squeezed between the demands of payers, the costs of suppliers, and the weirdness of the whole health care system. Like a lot of docs, she reached a point where it came down to either becoming part of a corporate machine, or making some incredibly difficult trade-offs to maintain her independent private practice. She wouldn't get rich either way, and she's not interested in being rich. She's interested in helping her patients and playing with her dogs.

Nevertheless, I can't completely trust her anymore, no matter how much I like her. Why? Here's what happened when I went in for my annual physical a couple of months ago, something I've been doing every year for the past seven years I've been her patient:

I signed in at the desk, got a smile from the office manager. I said "I guess there's no co-pay for an annual, now, with the Affordable Care Act, and all..."

She looked concerned. "Well, no... technically there's no co-pay, not for the annual visit. But we still advise you to make a co-pay at this time, because if you discuss anything with the doctor-- anything at all other than the annual visit basics-- the insurance company requires us to bill that separately, and collect a co-pay-- or else we'll have to bill you separately."

Is your bullshit detector going off yet? Mine was, but then I have some slight sophistication in the health care system. Oh. The insurance company required her to note separately, and bill them for additional services, if we talked about anything-- like management of my chronic illnesses, or the cold I was just getting over, or whether the spots on my back should be followed up for a screening-- separately! They're not part of an annual checkup any more, apparently. Although, they always used to be, included in the single annual visit co-pay I'd made for the past seven years.

BAD insurance company! They require poor doctor to tell them everything and bill everything! Because bad insurance company apparently wants to pay extra for other codes on the billing form?


Sure enough, during that annual visit, doc found something worth following up on-- with TESTS! and then another office visit (with another-- yes! co-pay! and yes! insurance claim!) to discuss the results, and then MORE tests, to determine that, well, nope, nothing wrong, really. But don't I feel better now, knowing for sure?

Not really. I knew what was going on.

I went along with it, because I DO like my doctor, and I DO want her to stay in practice. There was nothing unethical or immoral in what she was doing, but the actual benefit to me?

None. I paid extra co-pays, and endured a few weeks of anxiety (because, hey-- she IS a doctor. It MIGHT have been something, even though I suspected it wasn't.) And in the end, my benefit was confirmation that, yes, I enjoy my normal state of health.

It's one example, but a grievous one, because the physician/patient trust is one of the last barriers, and now it's been breached. I stopped trusting banks decades ago. Stopped trusting the government agency by agency, function by function, as it underwent the long, slow, takeover by our beloved Oligarchs.

As regulation after regulation, designed to provide the guard rails and promote the positive "win/win" nature of economic transactions, toppled, so did my trust.

Look, I DO trust human nature, in the individual, face to face, when we are functioning AS individuals. But when we're acting as agents of employers, corporations, our beloved Oligarchs? Even if that agency is second- or third-hand?

Gone, people. Sorry.

You want my personal information?

I'll give it to you.

But you probably shouldn't trust it.

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