New York Times Op-Ed: Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?

The following article appeared in the Opinion pages of the  New York Times on March 3, 2014.

LAST year, I spent more than $2,200 and countless hours trying to protect my privacy.

Some of the items I bought — a $230 service that encrypted my data in the Internet cloud; a $35 privacy filter to shield my laptop screen from coffee-shop voyeurs; and a $420 subscription to a portable Internet service to bypass untrusted connections — protect me from criminals and hackers. Other products, like a $5-a-month service that provides me with disposable email addresses and phone numbers, protect me against the legal (but, to me, unfair) mining and sale of my personal data.

In our data-saturated economy, privacy is becoming a luxury good. After all, as the saying goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. And currently, we aren’t paying for very much of our technology.

Not long ago, we would have bought services as important to us as mail and news. Now, however, we get all those services for free — and we pay with our personal data, which is spliced and diced and bought and sold.

Consider Google, which scans what you write in Gmail to offer advertisers a chance to promote their items based on your missives. Or a visit to an online news site where your data is secretly auctioned and sold before the page loads. Or Facebook, which allows marketers to turn your status updates into ads for their products.

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Privacy ToolsPurposeCost
hard drivebackup data storage$119.99
MiFiportable Internet connection$419.88
1Passwordpassword management software$69.99
shreddershred documents$61.98
flash drivestransfer files securely$30
MaskMe disposable identity service$30
walkie-talkiesunmonitored short-range communications $57.94
Riseupe-mail service (donation)$100
Postboxe-mail software$9.95
Silent Circleencryption phone software$124.80
Virgin Mobileprepaid phone charges$440
Off Pocketcellphone Faraday cage$85
Delete Medata broker opt-out service$209
MailStop Shielddata broker opt-out service$35
Acxiom info-request fee (Acxiom required me to send in $5 to obtain my data)$5
laptop privacy filterprevent snoopers$34.05
SpiderOakencrypted cloud storage$232
Access Denied RFID shielded wallet
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