Who again is the protector of your privacy?

Departments of Motor Vehicles in states around the country are taking drivers’ personal information and selling it to thousands of businesses, including private investigators who spy on people for a profit, Motherboard has learned. DMVs sell the data for an array of approved purposes, such as to insurance or tow companies, but some of them have sold to more nefarious businesses as well. Multiple states have made tens of millions of dollars a year selling data.

…The Virginia DMV has sold data to 109 private investigator firms, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Motherboard.

That is from Vice, via Jake Seliger, with much more at the link.

On the topic of privacy, increasingly I am starting to believe that the practice of the obituary is unethical.  The dead person is already gone, and usually (not always) there is little at stake, other than satisfying reader curiosity.  The newspaper collects information on you for years, and without any consent from you whatsoever.  Then, right after what is the saddest day in the history of your family (you hope), they publish it all and distribute it to as many readers as possible.  That is also when you have no opportunity to present a rebuttal or alternative perspective, and furthermore corrections to obituaries are not exactly widely read.

Surely all of those worried about Facebook and privacy will agree with me on this one, right?  And I bet the newspapers will pick up on this crusade as well.


"On the topic of privacy, increasingly I am starting to believe that the practice of the obituary is unethical. The dead person is already gone,...."

Yes, therefore they have an extremely low stake holder value.

Cut Tyler some slack; he was quoting from The Onion, right?

Checking local OBITUARIES is of greater interest to the elderly (not big spenders) than some segments of society to (1) see which friend is gone and (2) make sure one is not personally listed.

OTOH, newspapers typically charge for local OBITUARIES. And make the next of kin write the text.

It's hard to say it's a privacy violation under those conditions.

Hes a cuck like us!

u ever consider accidently touching the key 2 spaces to the right of the u to get cock meister instead of cuck meister
just to see what would happen?
it still looks like v. pootender played the fbi and the democrats
and also some of the republicans

'Who again is the protector of your privacy?'

Apparently, absolutely no one in the U.S.

'increasingly I am starting to believe that the practice of the obituary is unethical'

Which is hilarious coming from someone who regularly links to them.

'The newspaper collects information on you for years, and without any consent from you whatsoever.'

Which is fine, as public information is exactly that, being information protected by the 1st Amendment. Though with this trend, one can see you arguing that court records should not be public either, as the guilty parties do not consent to having proof of their involvement in criminal activities being published.

'Surely all of those worried about Facebook and privacy will agree with me on this one, right?'

Only those unable to recognize that MR is truly the finest satire site on the Internet. Unless you start crusading for something along the lines of the EU's GDPR, of course. https://gdpr.eu

Well played sir! H/T

Big whoosh, expect nothing less from you.

Perhaps quoting and responding to a post line by line is not a good way to actually address the point it's making.

Especially when calling for Prof. Cowen to stand up for privacy, and to propose something along the lines of the GDPR to protect user data privacy.

Because the point of suggesting that is to point out that Prof. Cowen cares nothing for privacy in the least, at least when it involves the abstract, shark-like legal entities devoted to commercial profit that Prof. Cowen writes love letters to.

And I though I was being charitable - other commenters have pointed out that generally, obituaries are something paid for to be published, and that only obituaries of public figures, of the sort fully covered within the framework of the 1st Amendment in terms of 'privacy' concerns, are treated in the fashion that Prof. Cowen apparently feels supports whatever point it is he thinks he is making.

I get it already! Facebook is an amazing company providing a wonderful service to humanity and anybody who says otherwise is an idiot.

I remember when Caplan said (evidently without irony) that it was "anti-intellectual" to say otherwise. It's a fine example of how too many like-minds can push each other into hardline positions that aren't warranted by their own arguments.

More evidence that government is no more than a choice among evils.

Re: Obituaries, among aged New Yorkers, the newspapers' Obits page is called the "Irish Sports Page." Let's see who from the old neighborhood died this week.

Tracking cookies on this site?

Oh Please. This is an academically driven site. They don't serve 'cookies,' they serve biscuits

Be reassured that the grave is the safest of safe spaces.

Not really, because your past will continue to haunt you

In most situations, the answer for Americans is: European data protection authorities. But in this case, that's not going to work. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The problem with the European approach is that the only people who can comply with the regime are the big 3 or 4 serial abusers. Smaller firms who would treat their customer's data with respect can't afford to comply with the regulations.

Nonsense. It's not that difficult. And GDPR consultants are a dime a dozen.

There is nothing wrong with simple privacy protection policies (e.g. don't store or don't share data) and requirements for domestically domiciled data. But the European approach goes way beyond that. GDPR requires standards for data portability, without going through the hard work of defining those standards.

I just think there should be massive fines for large data breaches. An awful lot of big companies would be bankrupt.
Even if it’s due to hacking the companies should bare a huge financial responsibility. Maybe make them think twice about outsourcing all their IT to some shoddy companies in India.

My day would be incomplete without reading a few obituaries in the NYT. I linked to Steven Gubser's obituary just this morning. Yesterday, Cowen seemed to express disapproval of the concept of Universal Salvation. I agree. Why should assholes get the same fate as saints. And none better than the NYT to identify the assholes (formerly) among us. Incentives matter. I don't wish to spend eternity with assholes. And I assume Cowen doesn't either, not after having spent so many years among them on a college campus.

“I don't wish to spend eternity with assholes.”

I’ve got news for you!

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum

For the record, one of the few sources of income left for many newspapers is the paid obituary. The family coughs up quite a bit of money for even a few column inches.
When most newspapers were arbiters of what's important, as few remain today, families gladly share details of the departed for the free obit. The paper's interest certifies the importance of the departed.

Come on Tyler, you are better than this. If a newspaper published personal details about private people that they had gathered through gossips, ex girlfriends, etc. they probably would be fire bombed.

If you purchase a Nest thermostat it will send your facial information to Google for analysis. Facebook has contractors listening to private conversations as part of their big data project where meaning has to be added to the raw data.

Didn't anyone at Nest talk to acquaintances and see what people's reaction would be?

A true story. I was chatting with a co worker about Husqvarna weed cutters. I deal with various parts vendors, and get emails from them from time to time. The discussion was repairing an old unit, we talked for 10 minutes about it. In those 10 minutes I got an email from a parts vendor offering Husqvarna parts.

I turned off the listening functions in my phone and unsubscribed from the vendors.

I'm not sure what is the best way to deal with these things, but whenever I talk about this they ask how do I turn that garbage off. These tech companies depend on exponential growth to justify their stock values. This is going to hurt them.

My own death is a matter of opinion, especially mine.

Well, we can as per fluidity choose our genders, we should be allowed to choose when we opine our deaths.

Increasingly, I think cognitive decline manifests first by a loss of ability to effectively write sarcastically. It comes out heavy-handed, like a 12 year old being clever.

How old are you, John?

It's not his usual mode so it comes off a bit strained. To sharpen your trolling, 4chan or reddit would be better than this site.

Tyler's description of the normal obituary process is not accurate. For something like 99 percent of American newspaper obituaries, the obituary is published in the local newspaper, and paid for, by the family of the deceased. It is the family, not the newspaper, which typically decides what will be published. As obituaries are an important source of newspaper income, the newspaper has zero incentive to do anything the family would object to. The obituaries Tyler describes are a tiny minority of news stories published in the New York Times and other large newspapers.

To you and the others that pointed this out, spot on! TC missed the boat here: obits are overwhelmingly written by, paid for, and placed by families. Then a very few are written by staff writers, for Important Personages. You said all this, but I'd like to add one more thing: without obituaries genealogy (at least up until now) would be TOAST in America. Birth certificates, death certificates, official records, etc., are all great, but if you wanted a record of your life (one that was usually carefully written and checked) to survive you, the obit was IT (unless you were a Personage writing a diary or memoir). Today in the era of FB etc. there are so many more records, but try to learn anything about some Average Joe or Jill who passed in the 1970s (e.g.) without an obit, and good luck!

Yes, that's correct, Glenn. And newspaper obits also can be a way to find people, because sometimes folks you are searching for on the Internet only turn up in lists of survivors. Which I guess takes us back to Tyler's point about privacy.

The most obvious solution to this problem is to give no one accurate personal information.

I've worked at a newspaper and — with the exception of famous people — that misrepresents the typical process for writing obituaries.

I worked at a paper in a midwestern city of about 65,000 that covered a county of about 240,000 (guess that paper?), every single obituary was submitted by the family. Typically, the funeral home helps the family write the obituary.

Of course, when a prominent person died, we did an article (independent of the obituary) that mostly relied on information from previous stories written about that person and quotes from family members or other prominent individuals who had a relationship with the deceased.

But the newspaper staff does not compile biographical information on ordinary people behind the scenes over the course of their lives.

Youngstown, OH?

Wow, well done.

RIP Vindictor, pal


As the son of a copy editor at a nearby paper (The Repository), please accept my condolences.

One has to be very famous (like President of the U.S. famous) for very major newspapers (like New York Times major) to collect information on one. The rest of the obituaries in the paper fall into two categories: obits of moderately prominent people (like Lester Thurow prominent), where the information is supplied by the family at the time of death, and paid obituaries submitted by the family and printed verbatim in return for cash payment to the newspaper. It's hard to be concerned about the privacy of presidents and others at that level.

DMV selling my personal information -- IS THIS NEWS ? Over the last 40 years, I have lived in both Virginia and more recently Tennessee. The DMV in both States have been selling my information to all comers for 30 or those 40 years at least.

It is an interesting evolution. 40 years ago when a private investigator asked to run a plate, perhaps they had a fee for doing that. Now I imagine it is wholesale data transfer and integration into big data personal profiles.

It's different in kind.

It's worth noting the DMV charges for the license / testing services. Selling the data is pure profit.

As a moderate, I like both public and private ventures. I can support a DMV that does its job. But I have always been skeptical of public-private partnerships, because I believe the combination creates a muddle.

This seems a clear case in point.

(The obituary question does not really hook me, and it seems pretty weak as a "got you" for Facebook.)

The obituary is a media sellers tropical paradise. The soil is so rich the seller can plant evidence, parenthetically. Media sellers can sell their content in quotes. Why does one need five obituaries? One lives as one dies, submerged, docile, plentiful.

Wouldn't it be interesting if Tyler had a conversation with an obituary writer at a major newspaper? I wonder love to hear something like that.

Maybe the last good reason to read the NYT was a wonderfully talented obit writer about 15 or 20 years ago. All I recall now is that his middle name in his byline was McG, and that's what my wife and I nicknamed him as we admired his touch, He was usually assigned the quirky dead people, not the usual heads of state etc etc.

The obiturary is the most hopeful and happy section of the typical paper. It's about talking about people's accomplishments with no shyness or false modesty. Lives generally lived to the fullest

Our protector is not the liberals.

Facebook's newest product

Is an obituary

Based on your postings.


But you have to pay not to have it posted.

+1, funny

A couple of years ago, I notified Ohio's AG office that I'd received a notification from the IRS (via) robo-call that I owed back taxes, fees and penalties. The next day I received a solicitation from a law firm specializing in tax law. There's no other reason I can think of that they'd contact me, other than the AG sold my contact info to them. hashtag notjustdmv.

Was it a genine call ? I thought IRS doesn't use Robocalls.

Ole died. Lena went to the local newspaper to put a notice in the obituary column. The editor asked her how she wanted the notice to read. She thought for a moment and said, “Just put, ‘Ole died.’”

“Really?” the editor said, "Wouldn't you like to say something more in the way of a remembrance to you departed husband?"

"No" replied Lena, "you just put 'Ole died'".

The editor was plainly concerned. "Lena, if you’re worried about money, don't, the first five words are free.”

Lena thought for a moment and said, “OK, you put 'Ole died. Boat for sale.'”

+1 good one, how about
swedish meatballs-

On the topic of privacy, increasingly I am starting to believe that the practice of the obituary is unethical.

No, it is merely embarrassing. As when the deceased has no grandchildren.

Well, the Donnie Pretari Facebook page isn’t me right now and I can’ t get rid of it or get it back, so far. I like Facebook but this is pretty annoying.

Generally speaking, the quality of obituaries has improved since I was young. The British papers in the later 20th Century started writing spectacular obits for WWII heroes with lots of battlefield action scenes.

The most shameful recent obit I've seen was the Washington Post's for the immigration policy patriot John Tanton, against whom the corrupt SPLC had long conducted a vendetta.


It ended by comparing the late Tanton, a Jefferson Smith-type small town eye doctor, to a dead animal poisoning a well:

"And here’s the last paragraph of the Post’s obituary:

“It’s sad,” Burns told the Detroit News in 2017. “It’s like a dead cat in a well. It poisons a lot of good water. Tanton has been that cat for 30 years.”"

But that reflects more upon the corruption of the Establishment Media over the decades by the Southern Poverty Law Center, than on the nature of obituaries.

May I already feel concerned by what The Economist will put on my obituary? ;)

Worrying about Facebook? The only worrying about Facebook one needs to do is to take into account the enormous carbon footprint of an account. People with souls will have deleted their account by now or at least by sundown. The rest are guilty of environmental crimes against humanity, and we will know who you are.

Marvell parody:
The grave's a fine and private place,
And none read there the book o' face.

Russian reversal:
In life, you read newspaper,
In afterlife, newspaper read you!

Comments for this post are closed