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By "Alexei Kurupatin"

I recently logged on to, my favorite bookstore, and there was a message waiting for me:

"Welcome back, Alexei Kurupatin. Here are your recommendations."

Usually, I go straight to the search engine. This time, however, I decided to see what my favorite bookstore would recommend to me. The list was as follows:

This seemingly ordinary compilation of suggestions set me to thinking. How did they know I was interested in self defense through firearms? How did they know I was interested in libertarian and conservative science fiction?

Simple. Because I've ordered such books from them before. And what's more, they could recommend these particular books because they knew that I hadn't bought them…or at least, not from them.

Cut to another memory, several years ago. I had just graduated from college, and having a businessman's bent, I was always considering ways to start a business…products and market, etc. I found myself in a Little Caesar's Pizza, waiting for my order, when I spied a little free-standing advertisement on the counter. You know the kind - a card rip-off survey wanting you to give your name, address, and other information about yourself. In this case, I believe it was oriented toward computer-users…what kind of computer, speed, modem, etc. The hook was a give-away for a laptop computer: "Win this ultra-new blazing fast Pentium mega-good-good computer!"

It should have hit me before that, just as it should hit all of us when we fill out those little rip-off cards. What do they do with those little things, I asked myself. What do they do with the names and addresses, and other "incidental" information?

I mentioned above that I had just graduated from college, and had just gotten my new address. For the first time in my life, I lived in a really big city. It wasn't until many months later that I finally connected the literal blizzard of junk mail and circulars that I began to receive with that little rip-off card. How does this computer-dating service know I'm single? How does the vitamin company know I'm a health-conscious person? How does this newsletter service know that I'm a small businessman? How does Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich and Steve Forbes know that I'm against the liberal politicians which ru(i)n this country?

It's simple, and anyone that thinks about it knows the answer immediately: databases.

What people too often don't think about is the logical end of this line of thought. If they know I'm single and that I like vitamins, what else do they know?

Obviously, knows that I'm probably a libertarian, from my reading habits…even though I'm not registered with any party. They know that I probably support the Second Amendment…even though I don't own a single gun…yet. And they know that I'm probably on the hoary fringes of the liberty movement, because I've bought at least two books which talk about revolution.

With people being convicted -- both in the media and in the courtroom -- based upon what they read, such knowledge is dangerous.

Do most people think about the fact that there's a good chance that anything you put on the Internet gets archived somewhere, forever? I certainly didn't think about that fact when I signed on to a political discussion forum and spent long hours debating politics. Now, whenever I want to sign on to a forum like that, I use a pseudonym and a fake e-mail address. (For accounts which require passwords returned to e-mail accounts, I get a free web-based e-mail from or

There are actual database companies out there now which compile data on you, for the primary purpose of marketing. All they need is a name to cross-reference data on you from a million different sources. If they can get a number, it's even better, because numbers are usually unique. If they've got a name and a number, they've got you dead-to-rights.

(Ever thought about that phrase: dead-to-rights?)

A couple months ago, when these companies got some publicity in the mainstream media, they claimed that such information was not going to be used to target (another word to think about) any individual, but were for very general, group-oriented marketing.

Yeah. Right. So, I understand that you're looking for some prime real estate in Florida? How much were you looking to spend?

A maxim of political life: where the potential for abuse exists, abuse will occur…especially if the potential is so large that the perpetrators have to give assurances that no abuse will occur.

Probably most of these thoughts and musings are old hat to the liberty movement. Probably you are careful with your personal information, as I am. But there are always new converts, and even old-timers need a reminder now and again.

BTW, I was born in America of good Swiss-German stock, and my name is certainly not…

--Alexei Kurupatin

(c) "Alexei Kurupatin" 1998.

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13 June, 1998