"I can't believe the government is invading my privacy! We might as well be living in Russia!" said the guy in aisle 3 into his cellphone. I don't know if the NSA could hear him, but everyone else in the Shop and Go Away could. And he's worried about his privacy?
The guy was still ranting and raving about his privacy at the checkout counter where he pulled out his Shop and Go Away "loyalty card" to save 35 cents on a can of tuna. The loyalty card will instantly tell the Shop and Go Away's giant computer that he likes tuna and that he shops at 5:35 p.m. on Fridays, which it will add to all the other information they've collected on him over the years.
"The government's got everyone's phone number and they're spying on us," he whined into the phone at the top of his lungs. Of course, every telemarketer in the world has his phone number, as well as every credit card company, bank, insurance company and every other business he's ever dealt with. And, unless he's asked for an unlisted number, it's in that super-secret document called a phone book.
Did he forget that he gave Shop and Go Away his very private name, address and phone number when he signed up for their card? By the time he's left the store, their computer will have sold his name to every tuna distributor in the country, and in a couple of weeks he will start wondering why he's getting a glossy, two-page flier called "Tuna and You" in the mail. When he drives away from the store, it will be in a car with state-issued license plates on it and with a state-issued driver's license in his back pocket, which has his height, weight, eye color, address and picture on it.
When he gets home, he'll sign into his Facebook account -- which lists his birthday, all his friends, his hobbies and pictures of every place he's ever been -- to complain about how his privacy has been invaded. He may blog and tweet about it, too. While he's Googling the words "invasion of privacy," little ads will show up on the side of his search window featuring products he's searched for or read about in the past because they keep track of that so they can sell ads. Then he'll relax a little in front of the TV, watching the very private Kardashians or the very private "Duck Dynasty" guys or the very private Real Housewives as they reveal the most intimate moments of their lives in front of millions of people. His cable company will keep track of what he's watching so it can figure out a way to charge him more to watch his favorite shows someday.
What's really odd is that the NSA knows much less about you than your grocery store, your cable company, your credit card company or the DMV -- and the NSA tried to keep the little they did know about you, well, secret. Until a privacy advocate told everyone. It seems the one thing that privacy advocates aren't very good at is keeping things private.
Anyone who goes on national television to talk about how much he loves and respects privacy is doing it wrong. It's like streaking to protest nudity. Within a day we'll know where you went to middle school, who your girlfriend was, how much you made, that you never finished high school and what hotel you're staying at. At this point, you should be more worried about CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and NBC than the NSA.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.