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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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We have no privacy left

Uploaded: May 5, 2019
I realized a couple of years ago that I am being “watched.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I saw those cameras in CVS and Safeway and at traffic light stops or at the downtown garage at Palo Alto City Hall and I thought there was a higher purpose at stake – protecting a store, or ensuring safety in underground garages and at traffic lights.

But my privacy invasion has gotten increasingly worse in recent months, and I am frightened. In known and unknown ways, I am being “spied upon,” to use an AG William Barr’s term, and the spying on me is occurring as I live here in Palo Alto.

Two recent examples: I was in CVS on Thursday and inserted my credit card into the slot; my card was rejected. I tried again, and got a second rejection. “But it’s a new credit card,” I told the clerk. “Did you get it authorized?” She asked. “Yes, I did it the other day.” I gave her another card and it went through.

The other card was “new” because there was a mistaken charge on my older card, and Capital One said I would need a new card, and sent me one five days later.

When I got home I read my email and there was a message from Capital One notifying me that my card that I used an hour earlier at the CVS store in Midtown had not been fully verified and therefore the charge was denied. But if I go to their website (click here) they will complete my authorization. I did so and my new card is fully authorized.

Evidently there must be a way for Capital One to immediately know that my card was rejected, and track down my email and send me a notice explaining what happened. Nice of them to do it, but I was uncomfortable that they so quickly knew so much about me.

Along those lines, in March I went to the pharmacy there and asked if they could provide me a list of all my prescriptions during 2018. That list was printed out in 40 seconds.

The more frightening incident happened Saturday night when my husband and I went to a new Chinese restaurant at San Antonio Plaza at El Camino in Mountain View. He had made the reservation by phone; he had paid the bill. There was no record that I had been there, as far as I was concerned.

I agreed a while ago to participate as a Trip Advisor reviewer of places I have been or visited. I get “points” for doing this but I have no idea what that means, yet I enjoy reviewing restaurants in a couple of sentences.

Sunday morning in my email Trip Advisor was asking me to review that restaurant that I still think has no record of me being there.

That is really scary. Somehow they found out I was there.

We seem to be tracked, followed, surveyed wherever we go, shop or drive.

Why? What’s happened? Is this our new society in 2019? Feels more like 1984.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 5, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

I forgot to mention the fact that Palo Alto has police cars equipped with cameras with wide-angled lenses that can scan all cars (and their license plates!!) parked in driveways and on the street in neighborhoods all around town. And some towns monitor all cars and license plates on a 24x7 basis that enter their community.

Posted by Roaan Atkinson, a resident of Southgate,
on May 5, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Billy Barr calls legal FBI surveillance of suspects "spying" (admittedly in order to placate the tantrum-in-chief.)

Does that mean the cop with a radar gun is spying?

Posted by Agreed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 5, 2019 at 4:14 pm

HI Diana,
Much worse of websites like mylife.com that pull together information from "public" sources (not on the web) and put it on the web where it is easily searchable. This should be illegal. People can ask to have their information taken down but it just sprouts up again in a few months or on another of the many sites.

The claim is that the information is public anyway so they can do this, but having some information available in an archive where people have to go look (even online) is different than having it available worldwide with a few keystrokes. If those things were the same, then there would be no such thing as digital copyrights (versus print copyright).

Diana, since you are a public figure, your information doesn't come up first on those sites if you google your name, but it does for ordinary people. Still, is this you? (the information isn't likely to be all correct but even if some of it is, it's a horrendous intrusion)
Web Link

Where we do have rights to privacy, such as HIPAA, it's a joke, because the disclosures are so outrageously convoluted and people's recourse so limited. I once called Blue Shield corporate only to hear a secretary mocking my private medical information. I have experienced serious problems because of our own school administrators and teachers playing fast and loose with private medical information. What is your recourse? It shouldn't be a federal case or nothing, and ordinary people shouldn't have to be the ones to spend all their time playing whack-a-mole with privacy leaks.

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 5, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Agreed --

OMG! This is not me. I never saw it before. It has my wrong employer (never heard of this firm), wrong info on my former residencies (never lived in southern California), inaccurate info on my religion (I am Catholic, not Jewish), and wrong info on my family. Terribly disturbing. You prove my point.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 6, 2019 at 1:22 pm

I took a look at the website and entered my own name. I am not sure what shocked me most, the fact that there was information there about myself, my family and my neighbors, but that so much of it was inaccurate.

Due to the fact that so much was incorrect on my own name, it makes me feel that any information gathered there from anyone else is not reliable either. Having this information in one place is not what I would want to see. But the amount of false information about someone online must be horrendous and quite worrying.

Posted by data homefront, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2019 at 1:58 pm

They're data miners and don't really care about accuracy.

Just look at Sterling and the lost class action lawsuit about background checks/info for their client (Lyft or uber, I forgot.)

Companies like uber don't really care about the quality of the info, they just want to be able to say they ran a background check so their liability is covered.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 6, 2019 at 4:06 pm

"They're data miners and don't really care about accuracy."

They ought to care a lot about accuracy. Errors in your dossier mean that advertisers are wasting money mistargeting ads at you and, worse, they are losing money by missing bona fide sales opportunities.

Each of us must do our patriotic duty. Support the capitalist system. Report incompetent data miners to Madison Avenue immediately.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on May 7, 2019 at 8:47 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Each of us can elect to live off the grid, use only cash and not have a cell phone if we want to avoid being tracked.

For most of us the convenience of using credit cards and cell phones outweighs the costs.

Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 7, 2019 at 9:47 am

Back when Silicon Valley was about hardware and the software that was needed to make the machine do something and immersion in tech was wandering the aisles of Fries, which was not very long ago, our local industry was a source of pride.

Tech accelerated much faster than our ability to evaluate it's impact. People were happy to give Facebook and Goggle, etc their data and still are. Just about everyone in Silicon Valley was willing to trade for dollars.

People have to turn off, tune out, and start saying no. It's worth having the discussion about whether Facebook, for example, delivers any societal value at all vs. the problems it creates. I've never belonged to Facebook. To me it has been a way for the few to exploit the many with relatively little value to the nation and potential to do great harm.

We've all had sufficient warnings about Big Brother just as we've had sufficient warning about a congress that is not focused on delivering good solutions (too busy fighting with each other), threats to free speech, illegal immigration, loss of mother/father families, etc. etc. None of the consequences should surprise us. We literally have a one party Democratic machine in California so we should not be surprised with a Big Brother government tuned to it's own agenda and pocket.

It's true, privacy is gone forever. People freely gave it to others. That's what people wanted.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on May 7, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Regarding mylife.com and its ilk �"

The intrusiveness and inaccuracy of mylife.com are bad enough, but its reputation scores are arguably even more offensive. Your reputation score will suffer if your past or present relatives, friends, neighbors, or classmates have a civil or criminal court record. Finally, mylife.com encourages visitors to enter reviews and ratings of people, a la product reviews. Don't like or are competing against someone? Nail 'em with a poor review.

Other sites provide the home addresses of B list celebrities and the home addresses of first degree relatives of A listers. The Rebecca Schaeffer Law is dead.

Sites like these should be shut down. The indifference of the ruling elite for the safety and the social harmony of ordinary people in the U.S. is appalling and reprehensible.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 7, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Peter Carpenter - about living off the grid: a newish "thing" is establishments that will not accept cash. I choose to not frequent such places because I object to the practice, but I'm guessing this is one of those things that will become more commonplace. I not only don't think this is a good thing, I do think it is a bad thing. One's every transaction should not be recorded in a database and forever stored.

Posted by Marc, a resident of Midtown,
on May 9, 2019 at 7:53 am


You do know how credit cards work? When you were at CVS and inserted your card the box sent the information over the network to the cc clearing house which then contacted your bank/card issuer to validate the card and account. The information sent includes the merchant, location, date/time, amount and description of items being charged.

Your card issuer Capital One then responded that the card was not valid and the transaction denied.

Of course Capital One knew about the transaction. They could see what happened and that you had not authorized your card. They reached out to you to correct this situation.

There was no conspiracy to invade your privacy.


Posted by Derek, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 9, 2019 at 2:19 pm

I would guess that Trip Advisor knew that you were at the restaurant because you have the Trip Advisor app on your phone and location tracking for that app is enabled. When you installed the app, it would have asked you whether you want location tracking enbabled, at least on an iPhone.

Another possibility is that you have the Facebook app on your phone and that you sign in to Trip Advisor using your Facebook account ... but I'm not sure if Facebook shares locations with other apps.

Posted by Barb J, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 9, 2019 at 9:24 pm

Diana, I'm 66 and on the road a lot working. I'm also active on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Facebook, and I have "Location Tracking" activated on everything: phone, tablet, credit cards... for one specific reason: if something should happen to me, and I fall off the grid, at least my children and authorities can identify my last known location and find me. Whether dead or alive, I'd rather be found than not.

I suspect that at one point or another, you've also enabled location tracking simply so you can use the apps you mentioned. If it's really troubling you, turn it all off.

Honestly, I'm more concerned about the fact that I can't drive on San Antonio at *any* time - day or night - without getting stuck in a traffic jam, and everyone is building MORE housing with no roads to support the massive influx of people, cars, scooters, bikes, and those damned giant buses with the blacked-out windows that idle for hours on our residential streets.

I've lived in Palo Alto since 1958, and it sucks now. But it's not about the cameras.

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 9, 2019 at 9:31 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Some of you have been really helpful as to "why" I was tracked so easily. However, while I have an i-phone I don't have Yelp, Trip Advisor or Facebook on it -- I do on my iMac, and maybe thanks to the cloud, those apps are everywhere on whatever smartphone or iPad i used..

I am still uncomfortable with being followed and located and tracked wherever I go and whatever I do. I am less interested in why it's happening, and more concerned with "should" it be happening. Am I the only one bothered by this privacy invasion?


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 10, 2019 at 5:51 am

Roger McNamee asked a reasonable question in his new book "Zucked" about the many privacy abuses of Facebook, and other Internet privacy invaders. That is, why do these companies have any right to look at your private correspondences. If you rent a mailbox or PO box does the company have the right to read your mail, or keep a list about who you correspond with?

Why do we put up with grocery stores who give us a pennies off items so they can track everything we buy and soon it will be every time we walk in the store, where we do, what we look at, what we are wearing, who we are with, and what we say.

But I think what is worse is that we have no idea where our data ends up, who looks at it for what reason, and what all the different data can even be used for or imply. If we put restrictions on the government keeping all this data about us, why is it we have the shadowy influences behind the government able to do more than the government? And the government has access to it anyway.

There is incredible power in information to transform our lives for the better, but it is being monopolized and abused by companies because they can set up their abuses to funnel money and power to those who already have it. We have a ton of very positive feedback loops in our lives and economy whose result is not so positive. Things are moving so far we have no time to think about them before they are in our lives and in our faces, and no way to opt-out.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 10, 2019 at 8:01 am

There are proposals in both San Francisco and Oakland to ban stores from the practice of not accepting cash.

I had been wondering about the rationale of stores and other places not accepting cash. I tend to try not to use credit cards on purchases smaller than $20 for the simple reason that it makes it easier for me to go through my credit card bill each month. However, it has struck me recently that each time I use my card I seem to get advertising in my feeds advertising the products I use or similar. In other words from airline tickets to underwear, as soon as I use a credit card to pay for them either online or in a real store, I get advertising and sometimes junk email offering me special deals on more of the same.

Every time we use a credit card that information is being passed on to advertising agencies. I suspect that the cashless stores are making money out of its customers and one of their ways of making money is passing this information on so that we can receive advertising.

For this reason, if we want to buy something and let it remain hidden then using cash is our only method. I am very much in favor of making sure that cash is accepted in all stores. SF and Oakland are using the argument that it discriminates against lower income or homeless people. I would go further and say that it takes away our privacy over our shopping habits.

Posted by Marc, a resident of Midtown,
on May 10, 2019 at 9:03 am

Why no cash?

Cash is dirty. If you touch cash you can't touch food. Cash has to be counted and taken to the bank. You have to have a "bank" of cash to start off with to make change. Cash can be stolen. Cash has to be counted.

If I want to run a simple business where none of the employees can steal from the register, where you can know your sales/costs/profit minute by minute., where you can operate anywhere without worry of theft you are going cashless.

If you want to remain anonymous use prepaid cards.


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 10, 2019 at 3:24 pm

I use the EFF Privacy Badger web browser plugin to warn me about suspicious websites that use 3rd party trackers to watch users as they browse from website to website. PaloAltoOnline.com has at least 6 of these trackers installed. I do not see any privacy policy on this website describing what information is collected and how is it used. Privacy starts at home and this author needs to start investigating her home website before complaining about other companies doing similar things.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 10, 2019 at 3:59 pm

"... while I have an i-phone I don't have Yelp, Trip Advisor or Facebook on it -- I do on my iMac, and maybe thanks to the cloud, those apps are everywhere on whatever smartphone or iPad i used."

Your phone's basic operating software can do whatever its creators programmed it to do, with or without your permission, with or without your knowledge. It can run hidden built in tracking apps and there is no way you will know it and nothing you can do about it. Like, remember Apple's stealth app which was exposed about a year ago that artificially slowed the performance of older iphones in order to stimulate sales of new iphones?

If you want privacy, leave your phone at home and carry a tab without a phone feature, with its wifi turned off.

The era of Silicon Valley as a technology center is long over. It is now Madison Avenue West. Big Advertising is watching you.

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 10, 2019 at 9:17 pm

OK. I found Palo Alto Online's privacy policy: Web Link

It says "Other companies that place advertising on our site also have the ability to assign their cookies to you if you visit their sites. This is a process that we do not control. Additionally, we use services which employ cookies to gather 3rd-party audience data (such as age, gender, and interests), interest-based advertising or information."

Essentially that means Palo Alto Online is selling their readers out to these unnamed 3rd party data collection companies and they give you no way to opt out. They are turning a blind eye to what data these companies collect and not telling readers what is collected or how it is used to profile you. You do not have to click on any external links for these companies to profile you. Just visiting Palo Alto Online will add you to their databases.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 11, 2019 at 12:52 pm

@resident et al.

Use the "privacy" option on your browser (or "incognito" or whatever your browser calls it) when visiting sites you may be wary of. Your browser will then automatically clear out all newly placed cookies when you close it. Meantime, manually clear all the existing cookies stored in your browser. Consult the Help option for how to do that.

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