A little knowledge . . . .

Every time you walk through the checkout line in Ralphs market and hand them your Ralphs Club Card, a computer records every purchase, every brand, every price, your name, your address, and likely your spouse’s name and address, the names and ages of your children, your telephone number, probably your driver’s license and your social security number, probably your age, your weight, your education, your income, the time, date and day of your purchases, and I’m sure a host of other things.

That computer may link with another bank of computers that does your credit card purchases, your video rentals, your cable channel choices, your “pay for view” choices, every site you visit on the Internet, your bank deposits and withdrawals, your credit card bills, the status of your accounts, and on and on.

That computer then links with another large, data-bearing computer and starts doing some very sophisticated analysis. Are you switching brands? Has your weight changed? Are you divorced? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you have hemorrhoids? Have you increased your intake of red meat? Cigarettes? Booze? Antacids? What are you reading or watching, and how does that relate to what you buy, what you think, how you vote?

Welcome to the 21st century.

Thirty years ago, maybe a few academics worried about these kinds of things. Today, there are people out there who know more about you than you know about yourself. Whoever you think you are, they probably know better.

Let me give you an example of how this works in practice.

Your life insurance company does a

physical/psychological profile of their policy holders who live to a ripe, old age. They also do one of people who die younger. Now, understand they want you to live longer because they get to use your premium money longer, so they want to insure the former and avoid the latter. They know (and by the way, I’m making this up) that people who live in Southern California, educated, higher income, without certain genetic strains, of certain races or ethnic origins, without family history of cancer or mental illness, who don’t smoke, who drink 1.7 glasses of wine a day, who have 2.2 children, who don’t take drugs, who have no more than 1.3 divorces, and who use certain products that indicate health consciousness and have not had a major illness in seven years are the most likely to live 12 years longer than the average. Conversely, they know that divorce, drinking, loss of a job, emotional upset, and personal or family problems make you more prone to heart disease, cancer, accidents, etc. and make you a worse risk.

The more cynical might believe they may also want to track their policy holders, so as some change from low risk to high risk beyond certain parameters, they can dump them.

Added to that, in a few years we will all be using fingerprint or eye-scan identification scanners, from which they not only will be able to identify you but probably also be able to get a DNA sample from sweat residue or microscopic skin scrapings, which then can be automatically analyzed, coded and compared against previous samples to record changes.

This age of new technology can be wonderful, and it can also be terrible. It will allow us to genetically and biologically profile humans and their behavior and help them live longer, happier and healthier lives.

I must confess it also scares the hell out of me.

There isn’t much most of us can do to stop the coming age. In fact, we’re already there. All we can do is recognize that there are going to be abuses and that we have to do our best to protect against them. It’s a step-by-step battle — protecting medical records, restricting the use of data about yourself, supporting legislation that protects us.

There is currently a bill before the state legislature, SB 417, introduced by Sen. Debra Bowen of Redondo Beach. It’s called the “Supermarket Club Card Discount Disclosure Act of 1999” and according to the senator, “It targets the newly popular marketing programs used by supermarkets in which customers join a club and get a plastic ID card to use at the check stand for instant discounts. The bill forces supermarkets to give customers the right to prevent their purchases from being tracked and tied to their name, as well as the right to prevent supermarkets from selling personal information and individual consumer buying habits to marketers or other businesses.” The bill gives consumers an opt-out option.

Send a letter, fax or e-mail in support of the bill (SB 417) to:

Senator Debra Bowen

State Senate

Sacramento, CA 95814


fax> (916) 323-6056

Voters’ letters, faxes and e-mail help convince wavering senators and assembly members that a vote in support of the bill is a good vote.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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