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Sure, and Then Unicorns Might Fly Out of My Butt


By Ken Magill

Is it too much to ask that privacy advocates at least keep their scary what-if scenarios even just the teensiest bit plausible? Apparently so.

New York Times reporter and agenda-driven hack—I know, pretty rich coming from me—Natasha Singer yesterday published a blog post about the continued wrangling over a do-not-track mechanism at the Worldwide Web Consortium.

In the post she highlighted one of the arguments to illustrate how differently some members see the issue of data collection.

Shane Wiley, vice president of privacy and data governance at Yahoo! advertising, argued that data usage is the issue, not collection.

David Singer, a multimedia and software standards expert at Apple—translation: a man who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground about marketing—disagreed.

“If the local drugstore keeps records of my nonprescription purchases, and later my insurance company discovers from them that I buy a lot of painkillers, and they later deny me health coverage because they suspect I have a condition, when did the privacy problem occur?” Singer wrote. “It’s somewhere in the keeping of records and their being available to the insurance company, isn’t it? The denial of coverage (the thing I see) is (‘just’) a symptom.”

Yep. Exactly. And when unicorns start flying out of my butt and start kicking the living crap out of you, David, the kicking-the-crap-out-of-you part is only a symptom. The real problem lies in the fact that I kept unicorns in my butt to begin with and then allowed them to escape.

First, this debate is supposed to be about how to give consumers the ability to opt out of having their browser behavior tracked for behavioral advertising purposes, not the collection of retail purchase data.

Second, only in the land of flying-butt unicorns would a pharmacy fork over information on customers to a health-insurance provider that might result in denial of the coverage necessary for customers to get their prescriptions filled at said pharmacy.

The problem with privacy advocates’ main position is no one is getting hurt so they resort to crazy what-if scenarios.

I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 37. I’m about to turn 51. Over the intervening years I have been prescribed increasing amounts of medication as my diabetes continues to work its magic.

Also over those years, I have had four different employers—including myself—and four different health plans. None of the plans have denied me anything other than the ability to get my prescriptions filled locally and forcing me to use mail-order.

I also have a propensity for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. My health insurance provider is aware of both because of the medications I use to control them.

So I have three conditions that everyone knows can lead to some seriously high hospital bills. Yet, I have been denied nothing.

Yet, in David Singer’s butt-flying unicorn world, some guy who jogs a lot and takes ibuprofen on a daily basis to numb the pain from shin splints might get denied coverage because his pharmacy hands over buyer profiles knowing it might result in a loss of business.

If we ever do end up in David Singer’s butt-flying unicorn world, I would just ask that the unicorns be changed to zebras. Those horns can be a real pain in the ass.


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