catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 3 :: 2014.02.07 — 2014.02.20


Privacy: A matter of the heart

Have you shopped at Target since Thanksgiving?

My mom’s text came as I was making dinner. Earlier that day I had heard the news about the major payment card breach. My husband and I had, in fact, shopped at Target since Thanksgiving. Exactly two days after Black Friday. And we had, in fact, used a credit card. Suddenly, we wondered if anyone else would be using my number or securing a loan in my name or posing as me to open any number of financially-related accounts.

I checked my account online for suspicious transactions, called the credit card company, read through the emails from Target, signed up for the credit monitoring, and ultimately, decided to keep my same credit card number for now. My bank has assured me that they have fraud protection measures in place and I won’t be held responsible for purchases I don’t make.

My mom is not so sure. Every time a new fact about the security breach is released to the media, she texts to find out if I’ve gotten a new card yet. “They were still talking about the credit cards on TV,” she texted just a few days ago. “They said to get new numbers and check your credit records.” I checked my credit records, but I still didn’t sign up for a new number, though. Mostly because I’m not that worried. I’ve had my credit card information stolen before.

Without meaning to sound too cynical, I usually assume that the transactions I conduct online are subject to more scrutiny than I am really comfortable with. While Google returns items in my online searches that look strangely like the exact information I was looking for and Facebook ads are for products I was really just thinking about, it doesn’t surprise me that someone, somewhere figured out a way to take the information I provided to Target and use it for their own gain.

Even more alarming to be was all the data compiled in one place by Experian’s credit monitoring service “Protect My ID” that I signed up for on Target’s dime. As I entered the pieces of my identity that hold the most power — social security number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth — I suddenly thought of how very big a heist it would be to breach the firewalls of that website. I even paused before hitting submit thinking about the ramifications. Ultimately, I decided to sign up. After all, I had just finished a year of monitoring with them back in the late fall paid for by the medical practice who lost my information in their own breach.

Part of the process of credit monitoring is a complex identity verification. In one of the questions, I was asked which street I had never lived on. Two I knew, one sounded familiar, one I didn’t know. I chose the last one. Right. They also asked which of four phone numbers had never been mine. I guessed by choosing the only unfamiliar area code. Again, I guessed right. But truly, Experian knew my history better than I did. Maybe they should confirm my identity.

Whether we like it or not, many private details about our lives are widely available to a scheming public. And we are the ones who have made much of it available. Every time we attach our name, e-mail address or credit card number to an online transaction, we have connected the dots for financial institutions, marketing specialists, statisticians and government agencies to know more about us. Not to mention if we use social media or other forms online communication, we have actually added narrative to the numbers. If someone wanted to know a lot about me, it wouldn’t be that hard.

But they wouldn’t know everything, at least not the quiet thoughts, the earnest prayers, the tender moments between my family and me.

Recently, my husband and I celebrated our first anniversary with dinner out at our favorite restaurant. It was a quiet day because we were both under the weather, but that didn’t matter. We had a weekend away planned two weeks later. I didn’t post any of it on Facebook. I didn’t tweet one time about the occasion (#wemadeitthroughyearone). And though I later blogged a little about it, I decided to wait a while, to let the experience of our anniversary happen without the real-time recording of it.

While my credit card numbers get hacked on an annual basis and my spending habits on Amazon may eventually mean products show up on my door before I even order them, it’s up to me how widely I share my heart. With every subscription to “Protect My ID” a company provides me, I grow a little more protective of my inner life.

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