Thursday, September 6, 2012

Privacy, please

The other day, I was perusing items in my Google Reader, when, suddenly, items would no longer load.  So, I went to Gmail to see if there was a problem with Google.  Instead of being able to log in, I was directed to another page.  On that page, they notified me that my account had been locked due to suspicious activity.  They noted that, usually, suspicious activity consisted of some sort of Terms of Service violation.  I'm not sure how I violated Terms of Service by clicking on a blog link to like something on Facebook, but that's another story.  Then they requested my phone number so they could give me a call or send me a text to unlock my account.  Now, I don't know if you've noticed, but Google frequently requests your phone number in order to be able to contact you if you've forgotten your password or if there's a problem with your account.  I always refuse.  I'm sure they are aware that I access my Gmail and Google Reader and Google Maps on my phone, so I'm sure that they already have my phone number.  But I haven't given them permission to use it for anything, so they can't do anything with that information.  Because I am suspicious by nature, and I enjoy making up completely ridiculous yet believable conspiracy theories, I assume that the account lockdown was just a ploy to get me to give up my phone number.

I prefer to communicate by email, so I sent one complaint and 2 requests to unlock my account.  It took Google approximately 43 hours to complete the task. [Mel actually noticed that there was a problem - that surprises me.  I am so anti-social sometimes that I used to think I could disappear for more than a week before anyone noticed. (Now I have an almost 6 year old little cling-on, so that wouldn't happen).]  Apparently, had I been willing to give up my phone number, I would have received faster service.  But, as I told Google, if I had to give up my Reader and Gmail...well, I'd have a lot more time on my hands for other things like reading and knitting. 

I don't know why I find it so irritating that everyone asks for my phone number.  Maybe it's because I hate talking on the phone.  Maybe it's because I have a constant stream of voice mail messages from the school district now that my girl has started kindergarten.  Maybe it's because I find the phone so intrusive.  Maybe it's because when I answer my work phone, it generally turns out to be bad news.  Maybe it's because I don't have a landline, so every incoming call has an associated cost.  (I am pretty cheap, after all.)

More likely, though, it's because I know that every company is trying to accumulate data on me in order to market to me more effectively.  I was stunned last night when, after watching Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention and commenting about it on Facebook, Clinton and Obama ads immediately popped up in my sidebar.  It is beginning to make me slightly uncomfortable to watch that tracking happen.  So, Google, no thank you.  I will not give you my phone number.  It's one of the few pieces of information over which I have a bit of control, and I'm keeping that control. 

(I will, however, be exporting my address book, so that if I do get kicked off Google again, I will be able to send out a message to let people know that I haven't disappeared into thin air.)