The Illusion Of Privacy

The peddler now speaks to the countess

Who’s pretending to care for him

Saying name me someone that’s not a parasite

Bob Dylan

Once a week, like clockwork I get a great newsletter from Bob Hoffman at the TypeA Group in San Francisco. Bob is what’s known in the marketing business as a contrarian, which is a benevolent term for cynic.

He has authored a couple of books that lay out his various points of view beautifully. He also travels far and wide, talking to all kinds of groups, I assume getting well paid for it, trying to straighten out the mess created by the digital marketing community in their efforts to get you to believe all kinds of nonsense about digital media.

This week’s newsletter was about privacy and it tells a pretty revealing tale about how little of it any of us who spend a lot of time online actually have.

In truth, we have virtually none. And we have had none for so long that most of us probably don’t even think it about it all that much.

But I do. Or at least I did this weekend.

My Point Of View

I’ve been writing publicly online for close to 20 years now. And as much as I would like to say that I have felt my privacy has been invaded and I have been stripped naked for all the world to see, I can’t, in all honesty, do that.

Not because I don’t think it’s true. But because I really don’t give a damn. And the reason for this is that I’m not really any sort of a criminal type. I’m just a regular guy for the most part. Any profiling information one might glean from me would likely be dull as dishwater.

And because I’m in advertising I don’t really mind that somebody is taking all the info that they can gather about me, whatever that might be, and sell it to marketers so that they can send me ads for things I might be in the market for. Because, for some of us, that actually turns out to be kind of helpful.

Do I think it’s weird that they do all this stuff without telling you? Yeah, sure. But I have always believed that’s part of the price you pay for being online in the first place.

Should I be worried that there’s anything more sinister involved here? Well maybe, but unless I’m conducting some sort of serious criminal activity here online, (and there are those who say might my writing could qualify), all I really have to worry about is the amount of spam I’m ending up with in my inbox. And the occasional dill weed who manages to hack my email.

A lot of younger people whose main computer is a smartphone have a little more to be concerned with because mobile advertising is a bit of a modern-day epidemic. My solution to that is simple. I have a second-hand iPhone that I only use for, you know, talking to people. It has a texting function but it’s such a pain in the butt to use that I just never bother.

The gathering and packaging and selling of personal information is one of the core functions of the Internet and social media sites in particular. And people are more than willing to give up a lot of info because technology is addicting.

If the technology of getting on with the mundane things in your life, like buying stuff, paying bills and ordering medicine, etc, are all a lot easier to do on your computer than they are by other means…what do you do?

Well, there’s a price for all of that, which is measured in terms of information and loss of privacy.

It’s Real Simple

So my best advice is not to back the truck up to 1985, but just to keep your nose clean and your spam filter updated. Because, after having thought about this on and off for a couple of days, that’s all the solid advice anyone who is not trying to con you somehow, could give.

Oh sure, you could go out and research privacy tools, hire some propellerhead to shore up your firewall, and download ad blockers for your smartphone. But the simple fact is that if you’re in any sort of marketing demographic group, which pretty much all of us are, these measures are the digital equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

The world can be a scary place. The digital world even scarier because a lot of it is run by people whose main agenda is to get you hooked on whatever they are selling. And we’re talking mainline heroin style hooked.

Why? Well, because if you get hooked then the effort of squeezing information out of you becomes that much easier.

The real risk here is that the maturation of the algorithms which run the data collection process has made them much more invasive and intuitive. And because of this, any social media site you frequent is now capable of discerning things about you, like your attitude toward social and political issues. This, of course, can lead to weird places like various types of radicalization and cultishness.

At the end of the day, information is all they want. Once they have that, the rest of the process pretty much takes care of itself.

So the message is clear. If you are going to give your information out to anyone online, be prepared to pay the price for it in terms of an erosion of your privacy, and a lot of influence pedaling from people who may or may not have your best interest at heart.


Jim Murray
Jim Murray
I have been a writer since the age of 14. I started writing short stories and poetry. From there I graduated to writing lyrics for various bands and composers and feature-length screenplays, two of which have been produced. Early on in my writing career, I discovered advertising. While the other media have drifted in and out, communications writing and art direction have been the constant through a 20-year career senior positions in Canadian and multi-national agencies and a second career, which began in 1989, (Onwords & Upwords Inc), as a strategic and creative resource to direct clients, design companies, marketing consultants and boutique agencies. Early in 2020, I closed Onwords & Upwords and opened MurMarketing which is a freelance strategic development/copywriting/art direction service for businesses working to make a positive difference in the world. I currently write long format blogs in 4 different streams, encompassing, entertainment, marketing, and communications, life in general, and the renewable energy and recycling industries. These are currently published on I have, over the years, created more than 1500 blog posts. I live with my wife Heather in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, after migrating from Toronto, where I spent most of my adult life. I am currently recovering from spinal surgery and learning to walk again.

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