Convenience Vs. Privacy

The other night, I finally made it back to my gym, 24 Hour Fitness.  Between traveling and being slightly under the weather, it had been almost a month since I'd had a chance to go in.  While all of the equipment was exactly where I remembered, there had been a definite change in the check in process.

They wanted my thumbprint.

"It's all so very convenient," as they told me.  "We just scan your thumb, and then this magical computer box converts the scan to numbers and we store that!  All you have to do is scan your thumb and then put in your 10 digit PIN and you're good to go.  Don't you love the fantastic, wonderful, amazing world of technology!?!"

As a matter of fact, no, I don't love it.

There are certain people who have every right to ask me for my fingerprints - the police when I'm dumb enough to commit a crime and get caught, Boards of Educations if I'm trying to teach children, the government if I'm doing some covert missions for the CIA in my free time, the center for missing and exploited children if I'm a child who may be missing or exploited, and even an employer who I'm allowing to run a through background check on me - all of these people have a reasonable claim to my fingerprints.

Not my Gym.

Not my apartment community either.

Don't get me wrong, you should be running background checks and sex offender checks on each and every resident, but we all know that you don't need their fingerprints to do that, just an awesome rep from some where like to set you up.  And while I know you can't stop progress, and I'm usually at the forefront of tech movements, it worries me that I can see a day coming where, when a resident wants to pay their rent, they just come in and you scan their finger and then that authorizes the withdrawal from the account they've enabled. 

I was turned off by not only the prospect of the program but also the way it was presented to me.  As it was explained to me by the perky girl at the gym check in desk, they're not actually taking your fingerprints.  They're, "Just taking the measurements between the lines on your fingers and then storing that as code, which cannot be reversed." The problem with that statement is that measuring the space between your fingerprint lines is HOW THE COPS TAKE YOUR FINGERPRINTS.  What do you think a 5 point or 14 point match means?  Also, I know enough about coding to know that if data can be processed to go one way, no matter how tight your encryption is, that same data can be processed back to its original format.  Rule number one of trying to make people feel all warm and fuzzy about technology is to make sure that the people who are explaining it are ignorant to what it can actually do.  Believe it or not, there are some pretty tech educated people out there, especially in the Seattle area, who will not hesitate to call out someone who misrepresents what a company is actually asking for.  What they were selling as "convenience" and "security" was neither when you look at it a little more deeply. 

Why they're doing this sort of thing is easy to see.  Not only does this kind of measure reduce the amount of staff that they need at the front desk, but it also ends up saving the company money because people aren't able to forge an ID and use someone else's membership.  And positive growth in NOI is excellent, but the way this situation reads when closely examined is that the company put their profits in front of the customer's privacy. 

There is a fine line between us doing something for "the convenience" of our residents versus us overstepping the boundaries of privacy.  The next time you're considering installing a system that will, "totally make things way easier for our residents (not to mention our own terribly overworked and constantly understaffed onsite team) through the miracles of modern technology," take a really good look at it through the eyes of a resident who still cares about their privacy.  As much as the world is moving towards these sorts of finger scans and retinal scans, I'm not so sure that they need to have a place in our homes.  

What do you think?  Is my annoyance justified here or should I just pop on a tinfoil hat and move to rural Montana and live off the grid?

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