Careful What You Ask For!

I have noticed that I sometimes see ads for things I have been researching on the internet – washing machines, refrigerators, roofing contractors and so on. It gives me an uneasy feeling, knowing that my movements about the Internet turn into business opportunities for companies that sell my search terms to advertisers.

Looking for a new refrigerator is one thing, but what if you are searching for information on AIDS, bipolar illness, early onset Alzheimer’s or anonymous help for substance abuse and addiction?

Those searches, even on reputable Internet medical information portals, are also turned into profits and potential loss of privacy, according to an article in The New York Times:

One Comment to “Careful What You Ask For!”

  1. From the very beginning of my internet use, back when dinosaurs roamed virtual reality, I have always assumed that any email or search conducted is as public as a postcard to a small-town post office… potentially read by anybody and everybody, with the half-life of nuclear waste; further you must assume you will never know who has that knowledge (can you spell NSA anyone?) I argue (to an astonishing amount of deaf ears) that if one lives by that rule, one will be more safe than sorry.

    In the context of information you’d rather keep private, it is worthwhile to remember that any law enforcement official may go to any bookstore or library and demand your history of purchases or borrowing, and perhaps computer searching, also with the proper warrant. Oh, and BTW, the staff is specifically precluded from telling you or anyone else that this information has been provided to anyone.

    Truly, I wonder when the same will be true of medical records? Perhaps, it is already possible for Homeland Security or the NSA or the like clandestine agencies to compel the production of medical records and also to compel the confidentiality of that production from the patient. I’d be surprised if that were not already so under the legal climate we now know for certain exists, after the NSA scandal. Certainly all medical records are currently monitorable and hackable if electronic, Notice the huge push to get all medical records to be electronic. Yes, there are good and valid reasons for that, but the potential for abuse is monstrous.

    There are anonymous search engines such as, but they are not as powerful or as customizable as Google, so their use is a miniscule fraction of that of Google’s. And even if you do use them, your ISP keeps a discoverable (and saleable) record of your data stream.

    If searching a sensitive topic, it might be best to (1) go to a WiFi hotspot such as a coffee shop (not Starbuck’s as they demand your identity in order to allow you to use their WiFi) and then (2) use or another anonymous search engine; and when done, (3a) permanently delete all cookies and history. If you are particularly paranoid, then (3b) you can run a program to overwrite free space on the hard drive of your computer. To find such software, go to your search engine and search “privacy program to overwrite deleted files” without the quotes. There are a number of options available.

    Remember, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you! 😉

    So few people understand privacy or security in the electronic or even the mundane world(s). It’s rather disheartening to watch people give up such a valuable boundary as personal privacy, medical and otherwise, without even a clue that it’s slipping away. From an alternative medical perspective, I would argue that such a permeable personal boundary is a symptom of one of the collective disharmonies of our time.

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