Twice each day while I was quarantined because a neighbor was awaiting coronavirus test results, a nurse came to my apartment to take my temperature. One morning, I forgot to put in my hearing aids, so I didn’t respond to her knock until she pounded on the door like a lumberjack. Who knew someone so tiny could make so much noise?
She’d been stranded in the hall because my attention had been fixed upon my computer screen. Somewhere in that black hole, I’d hoped to find inspiration for a blog. But as I say, eventually, I scurried to answer the nurse’s call and she performed her act of mercy in less than a minute. As she turned to do the same for the tenant in the next apartment, cradling her bruised fist as she did, I had my Eureka moment. Being deaf was a blessing. Each time I removed my hearing aids, I could disconnect from the world and cosset myself in the illusion I had control over my privacy.
Doing the same in the virtual world, of course, isn’t so easy. True, I’ve deliberately avoided Donald Trump’s contaminated information about the coronavirus in his news briefings. But, I don’t wish to disconnect from my email. Most of it is junk, I admit. But not always. Today, for example, I received a communication from my publisher. The message expressed regret as well as an apology. Hackers, it seems, had breached a firewall and stolen my personal data.
Receiving this news months earlier, I’d have blanched with alarmed. Alas, I am no longer a shy maiden. Equifax allowed my privacy to be breached a year ago. By now, I can only hope the numerous thieves who sell my secrets on the dark web use appropriate tags: Caroline Miller, author of Heart Land, Gothic Spring, Trompe l’Oeil and Ballet Noir, SS# 666-13-89. (If you recognize these numbers, you belong on the dark side.)
I deleted the publisher’s apology once I’d read it “Sorry” doesn’t cut it anymore. I am old, deaf and locked up in a senior facility. All the same, I can credit myself with having guarded my social security number since the age of 16, when I acquired it to work weekends in the lingerie department of Sears Roebuck. Yet, my publisher, within a scant two years, had fed it to the wolves.
Blaming the company isn’t reasonable, I suppose. Some of these thieves turn out to be legitimate companies. Free apps available on smartphones and tablets come with a price: the loss of privacy. Grinder, Tinder, OkCupid, Happen, Cue, MyDays, Perfect365, Qibla Finder, My Talking Tom 2 and Wave Keyboard are the 10 most popular and their raison d’etre is to collect private information to sell to third-party advertisers. (“Smart Apps Are Violating Your Privacy,” by David Rosen, Public Citizen News, March/April 202, pg. 12.) Desktop users have some control over the spread of their information through their browser settings and extensions—which makes me feel smug for being old-fashioned.
What these companies are doing is probably illegal in Europe and might constitute deceptive business practices in the United States. But their owners have deep pockets to defend themselves. So why bother to complain? Still, never having been found guilty of a crime doesn’t speak to innocence. Those engaged in the snooping business have the instinct of thieves and live lives devoid of conscience.