The ease and pitfalls of online buying

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By DON VOWELL

Now I’m starting to worry about my privacy.  It is not simply the revelations from Edward Snowden about our government keeping records of all my phone calls that woke me up.  It was Amazon.

The agitator in our washing machine stopped agitating.  The bottom half worked as normal, but the top half barely wiggled.  A short online search, still amazing to me, showed that I needed a new set of “dogs”/pawls to restore its health.  The pawls cost $2.69 postage included and the problem is fixed.

The new problem is the inundation of helpful suggestions from Amazon about other stuff I might be interested in.  They hoped that I might like to buy a new agitator as well, or possibly replace some appliances.  This is nothing new to me.  Having bought some camera gear from Amazon last year, I am sent their electronics department sales notices several times a month.  That’s fine.  I look through them and dream.

There was one near disaster.  I looked at a four-place kayak trailer, and went all the way to the “checkout” step in order to find out a possible shipping cost.  Then I stopped and went on my way.   The next time my wife ordered a small item online the price was $1,650 more than she expected.   They still hoped to send me the kayak trailer.

Like most people with ordinary lives, I haven’t worried much about the increasing level of government and corporate snooping.  If I have no secrets, there’s little for them to discover.

It was in truth a story in The Oregonian that woke me up.  An invasion of privacy is not always benign.  A Portland man hosted a website that published the names of STD carriers.  Those names were submitted by anyone, without verification.  If you didn’t have an STD, but found your name on there, your only course for getting it removed was to submit medical records and/or pay a fee of $1,000.  This guy is now serving two years in prison because he threatened a woman who turned some of his same tactics on him to get her name removed.

In my dealings with Amazon, Expedia, and many other smaller online businesses, I have blithely handed them access to my bank account, via my debit card number.  I don’t know what makes me think that’s perfectly safe.  The Internet has made it frightfully easy for you and I to slide toward having no secrets at all.

If only North Korea polls lower than the U.S. Congress for integrity or popularity, there is little reason to trust them with controlling the ever growing masses of data about our personal lives.  I saw an article recently speculating about the possibility that all of your credit transactions, online purchases, and even retail bank card swipes could be monitored.  I’m not sure about the national security value of all that, but I am sure that Congress can’t be trusted to question it, and their denial wouldn’t carry much weight.  Since our new reality is a constipated Congress that cannot produce anything unrelated to corporate profit, this is another question that will take quite a public uproar if there is to be any change, or even discussion.

I am not required to admire Edward Snowden, and he is not required to stand up and take his lumps just to suit me.  I am still glad that he has brought this subject up.  I also hope that Amazon’s observation of me doesn’t extend to reading this page.  I’m liable to find a kayak trailer kit on my porch as retaliation.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer.)

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