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Monday, January 20, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Dangled savings no reason to cede our civil rights

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THIS WEEK

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Who could argue with the idea of getting fitter and healthier?

It’s fine advice coming from the healthcare system or from someone who cares about you, but not from a corporation looking to poke around in your life … and fatten their wallets while stripping you of your privacy with the unspoken intent of finding ways to deny insurance claims.

Manulife Financial Corp. is looking to extend to Canada a program it started in the U.S.  whereby it offers financial incentives for leading a healthier lifestyle, one that they will monitor electronically and by accessing your medical records.

Much like the purported savings on auto insurance that come with installing a tracking device on your car, the loss of privacy is enough to say no. Governments, in fact, should outlaw such practices. They’re unsafe, unprincipled and unhealthy for our society.

That their sole intent is to benefit corporate interests adds to the shady nature of the practice.

You shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for regulators to act in the public interest, however. That goes double if you opt to plug into such programs, as your physiology will be watched (literally, via wearable devices).

Governments are already the worst offenders for attacking our privacy and civil rights. They’re also complicit in allowing private companies to do the same. That’s unlikely to change, and many of us are blithely unaware of frittering away our own privacy.

Some of us, though, are concerned about governments, police agencies and private businesses – none acting in our best interest – spying on us. Our carelessness with social media, for instance, further erodes our privacy, while making it easier for the aforementioned groups to keep tabs on us … and sell us stuff.

Add to the list of threats against your privacy – and even your safety – the technology we insist on surrounding ourselves with. Everything from our smartphones to our cars and even our TVs can and will be used against us.

Sometimes, as in the use of GPS technology in phones, our movements are easily tracked, the better to offer up individualized ads. Out running errands and decide you want to grab a bite somewhere? Your mobile device will pinpoint your location and offer up restaurant suggestions, likely ones from establishments that have paid the search provider. Seems convenient and innocuous enough, right? But that information is also being stored in perpetuity, to be added to the vast array of data collected about you, as well as feeding the overall statistics of not only the service provider, but any group to whom it chooses to sell the data.

Theoretically, with your smartphone on, you can be tracked everywhere you go. That information used as a sales tool, and also scooped up by government agencies, with or without legal standing.

The same caveats apply to your car and its telematics – essentially, black box information gathered by the onboard computer systems. Insurance companies – ever vigilant for new ways to make money, gouge customers and invade their privacy – are making a play to gather the information collected by your car’s systems. Under the guise of premium discounts, they’ll gain access to where you go, when you drive, total mileage, speed travelled, use of accelerator and brakes, and a host of other data. That information, too, will be sold to third parties. And likely subject to sweeping seizure by authorities.

Some convenience and the savings of a few dollars will end up costing us exponentially more down the road.

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