This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

December 25, 2002

"He Knows if You've Been Bad or Good"

The Santa Claus tradition, so much a part of the secular Christmas holiday, includes the concept that Santa knows if you have been naughty or nice. If you have been good, more gifts will come your way. If not, your bounty will be less. Santa Claus is all-knowing.

When you're a child, having some stranger know all about you is OK; adults are less enthusiastic about the concept. Their reluctance to have private information overly accessible is fueling significant issues such as privacy, identity theft, and personal security.

In reality, we are already very deep into the practice of sharing personal information. The collection, use, and sale of private data are big business. A large majority of web sites now identify you with electronic "cookies" and your web-surfing patterns are a matter of record. Your use of credit cards and frequent buyer cards--even in grocery stores---generates a considerable amount of information that helps merchants and manufacturers manage their merchandising. Tapping into a few databases can produce a penetrating understanding of who you are, what you do, where you do it, and even who you do it with.

Beyond merchants---web-based and brick-and-mortar-based, government agencies know more about you than you might imagine. And now, the new United States Department of Homeland Security, other governments' national security agencies, and Interpol are increasing their collaboration to fight terrorism. More and more computers will know if you've been naughty, where and when. These sophisticated systems are helpful for society, identifying and locating the bad guys to make our world safer. The computers also accumulate substantial information about the rest of us.

Scientists talk about a chip to be imbedded beneath the skin for identification. Just present your arm with the chip for scanning and you can check into a hotel, board an airplane, be admitted to a hospital, or pass through customs. Stolen cars, wayward pets, and livestock are already tracked using such technology. Perhaps soon, kidnapped children, executives, and parolees will be tracked using global positioning.

Where do we draw the line? This issue of privacy will grow in the future.

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