Business | Wealth of Health Intrusive technology means privacy rights are necessary By Ira Zunin Feb. 25, 2012 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. A bill to levy a state soda tax was held back by our Legislature for the second year in a row. The support just wasn’t there. Opponents argued that the government should not tell us what to do or how to live. But aren’t Coca-Cola and Pepsi telling us what to do and how to live with the billions of dollars they spend on advertising? We already pay far more into the marketing budgets of soda companies than we would pay to the government via the soda tax. Despite the fact that dollars from a soda tax could be used for diabetes education and treatment, the government has emerged as a bad guy with a branding problem. Soda companies have us convinced that freedom means an opportunity to buy their sugared water. Never mind the diabetes, never mind the obesity. Back in the day, print, radio, television and billboard ads would be located in places and at times we were likely to view them. To lure consumers into buying products, ads strive to make us think that we will be happier, more relaxed, stronger and more attractive if we use what they have to offer. The game changed when digital tracking tools began to follow our social, mental and physical movements both on and offline. Just before Halloween, my son was surfing the Web for colored contact lenses to go with his costume. He is still getting pop-ups from all kinds of optics manufacturers. Companies like Google have figured out how to trick Apple’s search engine Safari and can now compile information from our phones, desktop computers and mobile devices, learning much more about us than we realize or wish to share. Other firms also compile this information and sell it to interested vendors. Private information about consumers compiled from their various activities is used not just for business, but also for political campaigns in the United States and by some governments around the world. Why are China and Korea, for example, trying to control access to social networking sites? Is it not competition for the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers? Facebook, which continues to expand at lightning speed with impressive profitability, just announced plans for an initial public offering. The company reported revenues of $3.7 billion last year, an 88 percent increase over the prior year, and earned a $1 billion profit. What do they plan to do with the cash infusion? With 800 million users and an additional $5 billion from an IPO, Facebook is in a position to do much more than comprehensive profiling of its customers. Information technology and social networking have already proved that it can drive consumers to purchase goods and services by knowing so much about them. Has the tipping point arrived where the likes of Facebook can get into the business of social engineering? Has the day arrived when companies and governments can not only learn what we are thinking, but also tell us what to think and how to behave? The Obama administration just proposed a consumers’ bill of rights to protect information privacy. This is an important step but more needs to be done. Information technology is a valuable tool that can and should bring us together, but in the wrong hands it will erode our basic rights if left unchecked. Privacy is critical to democracy, essential to our autonomy and the foundation of a free nation. ——— Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to email@example.com. Previous Story Readers name stores they'd welcome in mall Next Story The coming condo boom?