If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 14 August 2010


We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files;
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself ...

Wendy Holden in the Telegraph writes about trying to buy some wine in a Majestic Wine Warehouse*, and being asked to supply her address, phone number, email and so on. Then she tries to get her hair cut, and faces the same interrogation. I have found the same when trying to buy a few batteries in my local branch of Curry's. Even if you want to buy something and pay cash (an increasingly rare thing these days), you are asked for personal details 'for the computer' that you would hesitate to give to a total stranger, but are expected to supply without complaint to a commercial organisation. You can refuse - and I always do - but then you are treated as some kind of weirdo.

So why do they want it? I can see the provision of some personal information being necessary when applying for a bank loan, or opening an account with a provider of services such as electricity or a mobile phone, where there is an element of trust in the arrangement (we agree to provide the service, and you agree to pay us when we ask you to). But for a haircut? Or a handful of AA batteries for the torch? For cash? Come on ...

Of course, it's all the customer relationship thing. They get your address, phone (home and work, or 'daytime' as they cunningly put it, and mobile) and email, and then they have several means to bombard you with 'special offers' and other matey, beneficial stuff that you would be mad not to want. Beneficial to them, that is. That's if they are above board. If they are a bit less scrupulous, then your details will be sold on to a third party for profit, and then your troubles really begin.

That's not the problem, though. You can always say no, and there's no law that says you have to provide anything to them at all other than legal tender for the transaction. What is bothering me is that it is becoming increasingly common, and that people are complying wkithout asking what the information is used for. The people who refuse are now the unusual ones, and I can see the day when people who like to keep their personal details to themselves will be seen as suspicious. And maybe even terrorists. Or criminals. Or paedophiles.

After all, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.

I've been tempted for a while to try going off-grid, or at least as far off-grid as is possible while retaining a normal social and work life. I'm part of the way there - I don't have any loyalty or store cards, and I pay cash wherever possible, or failing that I pay by card from my one bank account. I always tick the box when it says 'we would like to share your information with selected and trusted partners, tick the box if you are such a sad and graceless individual that you don't wish us to help you in this way'. I have my phone number registered with the Telephone OPreference Service, and my address with the Mailing Preference Service (and these do work, by the way). I asked the Post Office not to deliver any junk mail, and they reluctantly agreed, after warning me that the world might end if I did so.

And if someone stops me on the street and asks me for my personal details, I tell them to stick their head up a dead bear's bum. I suggest you do likewise. Privacy is valuable, and wanting to keep it is not necessarily the sign of a warped mind. It's the only thing we've got left.

*A new meaning to 'majestic' that I was unaware of.


  1. Ah yes, the old dead bear's bum. Barry McKenzie I think it was who introduced me to that phrase. Not pissing in their ears if there brains were on fire. That was another. And, I hope your chooks turn to emus and kick yer shithouse down.

    Yes. All handier by the day.

  2. Good old Bazza. Yes, that's where it came from. I had forgotten. Thank you for reminding me.

  3. Yes, and I hope your balls turn to bicycle wheels and back-pedal up your arse.

    Not you of course. Terrible thing to say to a biker that would be, what with our recurring difficulties. Martyrs to the hard saddle we are.

  4. What my wife calls 'chapel bottom'. But then she is Welsh, so that's an excuse.


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