Playing hide and seek with data security issues

A set of seemingly unrelated events have me thinking about privacy.

My wristwatch has been losing time so I took it into the jeweler who said the repair would cost more than the watch was worth. OK. That happens in our throwaway economy. It wasn’t a Rolex but it wasn’t a cheapie either.

I got the message and launched a search for a new watch. I looked hither and yon and found I could spend even more money for a watch I wouldn’t like as much. No sale.

Next I went online to see if any of the old watch models were still for sale. Voila. There it was, in a shop in South Florida, at a reasonable price. I closed the deal and even got free shipping.

I was pleased with myself, until I realized every website I visited suddenly was pitching me on a new watch. I couldn’t get away from it, which was both maddening and scary.

So my initial hunt for a watch had set off a big data alert that I was in the market for a watch. OK. I get that. But shouldn’t the fact that I just bought a watch also signal that I am no longer in the market? Apparently not.

All through March, I had been beset by hotel ads after I booked a room in Phoenix for a quick trip to watch some baseball.

I really didn’t want a rerun so I started playing with Google’s opt-out capabilities. It really is amazing how hard it is to swim against the tide.

The issue nagged at me a couple of days and I made the small leap to wondering about my online security. That was enough to tip me over the edge and into buying a Lifelock package.

I fed in all the numbers and answered all the questions. Pretty soon, I started getting reassuring messages. The computer had run this or that diagnostic and all is OK. Each time I got a warm feeling that I was on the right path.

Then I got a message I didn’t like. One of companies I do business with – oddly enough a giant in the computer software field – had been hacked and some of my passwords were for sale on a black hat website.

Well that’ll get the heart beating. So for the next couple of hours I busily changed all sorts of passwords. OK, I haven’t always been good about changing passwords as often as recommended or avoiding patterns. But now, they’re all shiny new and ‘strong’ with lots of random numbers and characters.

Do I feel any safer? No.

At the rate at which hackers hit retailers and even financial institutions, it’s just a matter of time until the bad guys have a password or some numbers that put me at risk again.

So with that thought rattling around in my head, I checked the mail and found a letter from the State of Nevada informing me of my obligation to file a return in August under the new commerce tax program.

Now, before I came to work here at the Business Press, my wife and I had opened a little mom-and-pop content writing business targeting out-of-state media that needed representation here for a convention or conference. It’s been in a sort of hibernation for 18 months or so but every six months, we renew our city license for the minimum fee. Once a year, we sign a form that says we’re generating so little revenue that we don’t even owe the state a penny in licensing fees.

Does the state really think this business might have passed the $4 million threshold that triggers a commerce tax bill?

Clearly, the information already exists in the state computer system but apparently the agencies aren’t talking to each other. If they were, they’d have sent me a one-page form to sign confirming I’m not subject to the commerce tax.

So we’re left to ponder the mysteries of a world in which the bad guys can so easily discover that which we’ve hidden and the good guys – or at least the government – can’t retain information we’ve given them.

It’s enough to make a rational person irrational. But at least as long as it takes me to regain my secure foothold in this insecure world, I’ll be on time. My new watch has arrived.

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