It's a fact of modern life: If you go online, know that you're being tracked and that data mining companies are selling bits of information about you—websites you visit, the apps you use, etc.—to any willing buyer. With Congress ready to start hearings next week on ways to beef up online privacy, Joel Stein of Time provides an overview of the latest tracking techniques and ways around them ("don't say anything private on a Facebook wall, keep your secrets out of email, use cash for illicit purchases," etc.). After immersing himself in this world of tech snooping, though, he's less worried than when he started.
"Sure, I was surprised that all these companies are actually keeping permanent files on me," he writes. "But I don't think they will do anything with them that does me any harm." Give people the power to opt out of tracking if they wish, but he guesses most probably won't. All in all, "it's a pretty good exchange for frequent-flier miles, better search results, a fast system to qualify for credit, finding out if our babysitter has a criminal record and ads we find more useful than annoying," he writes. "Especially because no human being ever reads your files. As I learned by trying to find out all my data, we're not all that interesting." Full cover story here.