Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh, and another thing

Just a few quick reminders pulled from my files that invasions of personal privacy come in a variety of forms and the perpetrators are not always agents of the federal government.

- From the LA Times for last July 29:
Looking for new ways to trim the fat and boost workers' health, some employers are starting to make overweight employees pay if they don't slim down. ...

Starting in 2009, Clarian Health Partners[, an Indiana-based hospital chain,] will charge employees as much as $30 every two weeks unless they meet weight, cholesterol and blood-pressure guidelines that the company deems healthy. ...

Critics of the lose-it-or-pay trend say that companies that charge overweight employees more for their medical coverage are turning the healthcare system into a police state and, just as worrisome, are working off of a false assumption that it's easy for people who are obese and have other health issues to change their situations.

According to a 2005 Stanford University study, obese people with health coverage may already be punished on the job. Those surveyed were paid an average of $1.20 less per hour than non-obese workers, perhaps because employers intentionally adjust their wages to account for healthcare costs.
Oh, please. The existence of
[c]lear and consistent stigmatization, and in some cases discrimination, [against obese people] can be documented in three important areas of living: employment, education, and health care....
In fact, it's reasonably safe to say that
[o]besity is one of the last forms of "acceptable discrimination." We have all probably been witness to people who find themselves the target of jokes or discrimination in a variety of settings,
including on supposedly "progressive" blogs: Just consider, for example, the frequency of fat jokes about Rush Limbaugh and Jonah Goldberg, as if it was their appearance that undermined their ideas, rather than the inherent inanity of them. So I do not imagine for a single moment that the pay differential is the result of some kind of conscious decision to adjust for health insurance costs rather than simple bias.

But getting back to the main point, this business of penalizing people based on health care statistics is a clear affront to personal privacy and to worker dignity. It treats employees like serfs on a feudal estate, whose entire lives, not just their worktime, are subject to the demands and requirements of the lord of the manor.

- From for January 3:
If you've signed up to receive e-mails from Sears, and then clicked on to join the retailer's "My SHC Community," it's likely you've been providing more information to more people than you thought. Even more troubling, it turns out that you're not just sharing information with Sears, but also with a company called comScore, which tracks and aggregates Internet browsing habits.
Installing the software also installs spyware called VoiceFive, which provides data to Comscore, which tracks the web activity of potentially millions of users, few of who know it's even happening. What's more, notes, in order to sign up for the Sears program, you must agree to a privacy statement which has this buried in the middle:
Once you install our application, it monitors all of the Internet behavior that occurs on the computer on which you install the application, including both your normal web browsing and the activity that you undertake during secure sessions, such as filling a shopping basket, completing an application form or checking your online accounts, which may include personal financial or health information. calls that statement "scary," which seems if anything an understatement since it essentially empowers Sears to gather and record everything you do online, including any information you provide to or access from any site anywhere on the Web. No wonder the provision is well-hidden. Maybe a little too well-hidden, in fact: says that according to BetaNews, it may run afoul of
FTC regulations that require companies to make such spyware inclusion very clearly apparent. Many would agree that burying it in the middle of a multi-page privacy statement doesn't do much for clarity.
I can certainly go with that. One of my major sources of frustration is reading so-called "privacy notices" only to discover they are chock full of loopholes and exceptions that render them for all practical purposes meaningless. Three of my favorites are:

- pledging to share "your important personal data" only with other companies that "pledge" to keep it as confidential as the original company but giving no hint that there could or would be any sanctions against those other companies if they broke that pledge nor how the original company would know if they did;

- stating information would be released upon "lawful request" - not, please note, subpoena, but request - of any law enforcement agency; and, my real favorite,

- assuring you that your information will not be released except under such-and-such circumstances "or as otherwise permitted by law," thereby authorizing the company to use your personal information in any way in any way it wants, for any reason it wants, and release it to anyone it wants, unless that particular use is specifically illegal - that is, the "guarantee" comes down to "we won't break the law, we promise."

- From AFP for January 8:
Four Texas teens were suspended from school Tuesday for refusing to get their hair cut over the Christmas break, school officials said.

The students had been warned that the district was cracking down on dress code violators after they repeatedly let their locks loose on school grounds.

"Our policy states that the hair (on male students) cannot extend beyond the collar in the back," said Kevin Stanford, superintendent of the Kerens Independent School District. ...

Students at Kerens high school are also prohibited from wearing sleeveless shirts, excessively tight or baggy pants, mismatched socks, "disruptive hair styles" and "unnatural" hair colors, according to an 86-page student handbook.

"The Kerens ISD dress code promotes the effective personal presentation skills which contribute significantly to successful living in adult society," the handbook explained. "The district's dress code is established to teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and teach respect for authority."
In short, beyond the assertion that having long hair or baggy pants is inherently dirtier than other fashions, the purpose of the dress code is to teach kids how to just shut up, do what they're told, and be just like everyone else - this being the secret to "successful living in adult society." I had thought this kind of crap had been dealt with decades ago. Apparently, Texas is thirty years behind the rest of the country in a lot more ways that one.

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