Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Consequences of Revealing Innocuous Data

Once you've lost your privacy, you realize you've lost an extremely valuable thing. - Billy Graham

Privacy is not something that I'm merely entitled to, it's an absolute prerequisite. - Marlon Brando

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

The short, well-dressed but nondescript man sat in the car dealership with other customers in the customer service waiting area as they waited for their vehicles.  While most people put waiting at the dealership only a few pegs lower on the “fun scale” behind seeing their dentist or renewing their licence in the DMV line, he actually enjoyed spending time here.

After all, he wasn’t here waiting for his vehicle.

He was here to steal someone else’s.

Customers came and went over the next hour as he waited for a specific event to take place that would make his day worthwhile.  Finally, his wait was rewarded when the customer service supervisor walked into the waiting area and on a large board on one wall, began to write customer names and vehicle identifying information.  It was a promotion for a vehicle buy-back program that the dealership was running and they had written on the board, the names of the customers who would be in the dealership that week.

He pulled out his phone and began texting the information on the board to a colleague of his and as he did so, he smiled.  He and his team used to roam the streets of Calgary looking for specific models that were either easy to steal, easy to sell or both.  He had invested a lot of money in the security system disabler for those specific vehicles so he was locked into specific makes and models unless he chose to diversify his operation.

Now as he sat amongst the bored, tired and stressed customers, an employee of the dealership posted the information he needed which took away the need to waste hours roaming the streets.

“Efficiency is the name of the game in any business”, he thought with a smile.

When he first discovered this some time ago, he tried to take a photo of the board but someone stopped him and said it was a violation of privacy to do so.  He could have protested that the posting of information was more of a violation than photographing it but he needed the information and so he had apologized with a smile and sat down.

Now he stopped in every few days to obtain a new list of names, texted the information to a colleague and once confirmation came back regarding the home addresses of the individuals on the board, he would get up and leave. 

He didn’t take everyone’s name down but rather, only the ones whose vehicle descriptions were of appeal to him and over the next 24 hours, those vehicles would disappear from the driveways of unsuspecting customers and within hours after that, be disposed of.

As he noted the names from today’s “harvest”, he paused and frowned when he got to the last name on the list.

The name was very familiar to him.

After pausing for a moment more, he sent the name to his colleague as with the other ones but this one didn’t have any vehicle that he was interested in.

About 8 hours later, he sat parked in his car on a quiet street in Calgary ….. waiting in the dark.

As the vehicle he had seen on the list earlier in the day pulled into the driveway, for a moment he was distracted as memories tumbled through his mind.

Memories of love …. of pain …. and of revenge.

The restraining order that had been issued against him had insulted and embarrassed him in front of his friends and had been almost too much to bear.

When she had gone into hiding, it angered him because he wasn’t able to talk to her about her obvious misunderstanding and he swore that someday, she would pay for what she had done to him.

And now, in a moment of serendipity, he saw her climb out of her car and walk towards her door.

He turned off his interior vehicle lights so they wouldn’t illuminate when he opened the door, opened the door quietly and began to walk towards her quickly.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


The story was inspired by an event that occurred this morning.  In the process of getting my vehicle serviced for a recall at a car dealership in Calgary, I realized that my name, my vehicle information and similar information for other customers was posted prominently on a board in the customer service area.

Given that the information was being used in a public area for a promotion and was being displayed without my consent, I requested that my name be removed.  I also pointed out that the information could be used to violate someone’s privacy and to prove the point, within 5 minutes, I had obtained the home addresses of 8 of the 10 customers displayed.

When I attempted to obtain a photo of the board, I was informed that photos couldn’t be taken because of privacy reasons.  Unfortunately, the privacy of these customers (and who knows how many before them) may have already been breached merely by posting the info on the board.

The tale of the auto thief is fiction and serves as an example of what a miscreant can do with such information.

The security system disabler referenced in this post is real and is easily obtained by those who make crime their bread and butter.

By the time this post was written, the board at the dealership had been erased but I still managed to obtain a photo anyway.

Was it erased to appease a customer and then redone when the customer left or will it remain empty?

By the way, it was interesting to note that the service people’s names on the bottom of the list were identified by first name only.  We mustn’t breach their privacy after all!

Maybe I should stop back tomorrow to check  ….. before someone else sees the board first.  Criminals are, after all, opportunists.  We need to think before we do stupid things so that we stop creating opportunities for them. [Author note: I checked the next day and the names are no longer on the board.  This dealership has always been amazing to me and I will continue to give them my business.  Sometimes what sets someone apart from others when it comes to service is how they respond when a customer has an issue and this dealership responded quickly and appropriately. However, may this post serve as a warning to what happens when we don’t think before we act when it comes to other people’s privacy.]

What do you think?

PS As a long time strategy advisor, I am paid to “see into the future”, anticipate actions and measurable outcomes for my client as well as for competitors and to create proactive strategic plans that maximize results while minimizing / mitigating risk.  If more people thought through their actions in the manner in which people in my industry do, with full knowledge of what could be, we would be able to avoid situations like this.  No matter how strange a scenario, failure to anticipate it almost always enables it.

Truth is stranger, and often more frightening, than fiction.

An Amusing Anecdote – Related But Not

I remember some years ago when a car dealership in my hometown was offering high-end stereos with the purchase of a new vehicle.  It turned out that the dealership had purchased a small number of these stereos and so when they sold new cars with the stereo installed in it, they arranged for someone to go to the home address of the new car buyers in order to steal the stereo from the new vehicle.  The stolen stereos were then “re-sold” in new vehicles, thus allowing the promotion to continue.

I don’t remember who eventually figured this out, but the notion of a car dealership involved in theft (instead of enabling it) came to mind as I wrote this. Smile

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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