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The Tracking Equation
Jeff Pasternack

Someone once said that hindsight is 20/20. I'm not sure that we've come far enough along to be able to look back and say "wow, why didn't we recognize what the digerati and technocrats were doing." Not that there's a conspiracy, mind you, its just that once business and government starts moving down a track, too much money becomes involved to throw it all away.

1986. Lojack is among the first companies that track the location of vehicles. The tracking can be used for vehicle recovery if the car is stolen or for convenience, such as by calling OnStar and asking them for directions to the nearest Chinese joint. The concept is very basic: track this for me and find it if I lose it or if it is taken from me. Alternatively, if I want to go somewhere near where my car is, guide me there. Just track it.

1993. Applied Digital Solutions is established and soon begins selling VeriChip. About the size of a grain of rice, it can be implanted under the skin. Consider it Lojack for a body with a similar concept: track this for me, say when it is sick and if someone who loves it loses it, find it for them. Just track it. Oh, if you're a reader in Mexico, be sure to enroll your child in the new VeriKid program. The procedure to insert the chip is relatively painless.

1997. The World Wide Web seeps into our collective reality and the media gloms onto the word "cookie" as it relates to privacy and this issue is raised: why do Web sites put a piece of code into my computer that shows where I've been and, in some instances, who I am? A little while later, anti-cookie sentiment gave way to the conveniences made possible by cookies, i.e. instant login and ecommerce. But the concept has evolved. Lojack and VeriChip are optional. You can buy a car without Lojack and you don't need to implant VeriChip. With cookies and ISP tracking, you can't avoid being tracked except by not using the Internet. Buuuuuut…..the Net is so convenient! So trade away some privacy in exchange for convenience. Really, its ok. Just accept that you'll be tracked.

November, 1999. The Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, the federal government's database for tracking identity theft complaints, is launched. It was created pursuant to the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. Since monitoring began, identity theft rates climb at meteoric rates and show no signs of slowing. Suddenly, my parents' advice to "just be myself" becomes more difficult as other people are also busy trying to be me. One person finally succeeded in May, 2004. I sure hope the authorities, or credit bureaus, are tracking me enough to know what purchases belong to the real me, and which belong to the fake me, because frankly, one tank of gas purchase in my hometown looks the same as the other, but they're not.

January, 2001. SuperBowl attendees in Tampa Bay, knowingly or otherwise, participate in the largest police lineup ever as the Tampa Bay Police Department tests out FaceIt, which matches faces to a database of known criminals. Be scanned or don't attend. And it is ok if an attendee visits the Ybor City entertainment district afterwards and causes trouble, as they're being tracked by FaceIt there too. Everyone else that's being tracked will be safer. Trust us.

September 12, 2001. One day later and all bets about people choosing privacy over security are off. Every day since then, fear ebbs and flows, privacy rights are scaled back and an illusion of security settles uneasily around the nation, pierced for good measure at every holiday or overseas military move by a vague warning. Be vigilant. You could have a terrorist living next door. Government asks: how do we identify a terrorist? Industry responds with systems that profile people based on their socioeconomic activities and other demographics. Any 4th Amendment issues? Nah….government is just studying the tracking data and acting on what's been compiled.

Do you see the trend here? Both businesses and governments are very busy learning new ways to track what we do, what we buy, where we go and with whom we are affiliated. There is an intense interest in who we are and are we, in fact, who we lead everyone to think that we are. I once saw a license plate that summed it up: IMIRUU. The answer to that question is what business and government are converging on, although government is simultaneously constrained by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights but freed, albeit temporarily, by the Patriot Act.

At one point in time you had the ability to control access to information about yourself and you were able to protect your privacy. Arguably, those days were on their way to being gone in the 60's and today's erosion is only affecting the core components and the shadows of privacy notions long dead. Have you read the privacy notices sent by your credit card, insurance and banking companies? You have to opt out of their information sharing (read: selling) programs. They presume that you don't mind having your buying behaviors, which they track, sold to other companies. How arrogant. And yet, how good was the tracking if the banks couldn't stop the harm caused by the theft of my identity?

So here's an equation to consider: the quest to retain/locate your possessions and loved ones + real-time health monitoring + the battle against terrorism + slowing/stopping identity theft + ease of commerce = implantable chips. All the tracking is worthless without incontrovertible proof that who or what is being tracked is, in fact, who or what the tracking system believes it is tracking.

Privacy concerns increased with the ascent of the Internet and we rightly feared the invasion into, and the erosion of, our privacy. However, with this equation, privacy concerns raised against implantable chip technology appear to be faltering as many people might be likely to support using the chips if the illusion of security is well-crafted and the commerce benefits are instantly tangible.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group and author of the TechnoPeasant Review. If you have questions about technology or comments about this column, please write to him at


Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at