Information Rape

Pam Dixon is the executive director of the World Privacy Forum. She is frequently quoted on the matter of personal privacy, or lack there of,  in the digital age. 

Hi Pam,

I came across the World Privacy Forum while reading about Office Max’s recent direct mail screw up; an especially insensitive and glaring example of how our deeply personal information ends up in the hands of marketers.


Being the Millennial that I am, I already assume everything about me is floating around the internet or in the hands of marketers. (Because I’m so special and the whole world should to know about me! Am I right other Millennials?!) I made peace with this a while ago. Most of my info is out there because I put it there. Two years of South-by-Southwest RSVP’s will do that pretty quickly. I know that every click I make is recorded. I know that every product I look at is noted. Hell, when I look at socks on the internet, Zappos will promote  Tweets to me for the next month. It’s lame but bearable.

But this topic of privacy in the era of “big data” extends beyond excessive junk mail to a deeper societal issue. Who gave marketers the the right to my information? To make money selling and trading my information? I sure didn’t, at least not explicitly. But the Constitution doesn’t specifically say they can’t either, so here we are. Privacy gets especially sticky when dealing with a person’s health information. There’s a major difference between what brand of cereal I eat in the morning and what  prescription drugs I take in the morning. Health is an extension of the body and the body is the most personal thing. If my health information is going to be whored out, I at least want a cut from the sale and a say in who receives it. Otherwise that’s just information rape.

One more thing. Do you really think Snapchat pictures just go away? I have serious doubts.

Thank you for advocating for our privacy.


PS: I see you’re based in San Diego, ‘America’s Finest City’. SDSU Alum right here.


Hi Hayden, thank you for your thoughtful note. I really enjoyed reading it and hearing from you! Snapchat pics don’t really go away quite the way everyone thinks they do, though my super geek friends tell me it is now improved from what it used to be.

I agree with your perspective on the continuum of what is important regarding privacy: medical/ health privacy gets top ranking in my book, along with some additional areas of highly sensitive information. I don’t think anyone in particular gave marketers the right to our info, but I sure would like to see us draw some limits on how that balance works right now. I’d really like to see all of us have rights to have a say about how or if our data is used. Especially stuff we all really care about.

Next time you are in San Diego, please do drop by. We are across the street from Cafe Bassam, would be happy to hear more of your thoughts.

Best, Pam

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