AD Main Menu

Mary Schmich: My email? My zip code? No way, except...

Privacy in this hyper-connected world has become as elusive as a dust mote, and so I stage my small rebellions.

I rebel when I sign on to Gmail and there, via an alarming banner at the top of my inbox, the Google gods are asking for my phone number. This has happened repeatedly in the past few days.

It's for my protection, the Google gods assure me, for my security.

No. No. No.

I will not give the almighty Google my phone number, no matter how many times the mindless bots demand it or how much terror they try to kick up in my heart. I will not be manipulated in this way, even if it means all my data may one day disappear into the same black hole that swallows sunglasses, pens and winter gloves.

Viva la rebelion!

I rebel when I go to the hair-care products place to buy shampoo.

"Are you in our system?" says the perky clerk.

"No."

Surliness surges through me, though I try to hide it because she's just doing what she's paid to do, and, really, my surliness is aimed at the corporation that has trained her to think it's only reasonable to give away your personal information just so you can wash your hair.

"What's your email?" says the perky clerk.

"Do I really need to give my email to buy shampoo?"

"It's for our system," she says.

"I prefer not to be in systems."

"It helps us keep track of what you buy in case you can't remember next time you come in."

"I'll remember."

"Wouldn't you like to be on our mailing list?"

"No."

"We have some great promotions."

"I don't need any promotions. I ... just ... want ... my ... sham ... poo."

Surly, surly, surly, but rebels are not saints and rebellions are never love-ins.

Privacy has become one of the great buzzwords of our time, its loss one of our great laments. Facebook. The NSA. Google. Amazon. Everybody's snooping on us.

I try to tell myself that living in the modern world isn't much worse than living in a small town, where everybody knows whose car is parked out front and who sunbathes nude in the backyard.

But then I remember the novels I read as a girl about all the people who fled their small towns for the big city to escape the snoops. Nobody likes a snoop, and at least the small-town folks in those novels had a place to go in pursuit of privacy.

Now the snoops are everywhere, pretending their intrusions are for our own good.

"Would you like a rewards card?" says the supermarket cashier.

"Not today."

"It just takes a minute."

Well. The supermarket rewards card does offer some things even a rebel wants. Ten yogurts for $5? Sign me up.

But I maintain my rebel stance on the sign-up form by writing down a phone number I no longer use.

When I mentioned my small rebellions to a tech-savvy colleague, he sent me a recent article from Forbes magazine about ZIP codes, in which the writer explains why you should rarely give yours in a retail outlet.

That was news. A phone number is personal and unique, but a ZIP code?

According to Forbes, your ZIP code can be matched to other information you give a store and used to find out your address, phone number and buying history, supplying marketers with new ways to target you.

The marketers. That's who's spooky. They're as sly and scary as any government. And so I rebel.

But it's hard to rebel constantly or consistently.

At a cafe one day last week, I tried to log into the Wi-Fi, but it came with a condition. I could get online only if I provided my email address, which, the form clearly said (points for candor), would be used to send me information about products.

I wanted the Wi-Fi. I gave in. Rebels have weak spots.

And no matter how many small rebellions you stage, there is no evading the giant forces that invade our privacy every day, no escaping the fact that our credit card companies probably know more about us than the NSA.

Still, these small rebellions create the illusion of control, and that's better than no control at all.

You don't have to sell your soul just to buy shampoo.

Mary Schmich is Chicago Tribune. Email, mschmich@tribune.com; twitter.com/maryschmich; facebook.com/maryschmich.



By MARY SCHMICH