Back in the '60s, when James Bond was the coolest and first gadget geek on the planet, we boys reaped a whirlwind of spy toys each holiday. Top of my memory is the Bond Attache Case, complete with a pop-out throwing knife. Other stealth features in Bond toys were an ingeniously designed pistol within a pistol. When a villain disarmed you of your standard issue automatic, you artfully slipped from its handle a tiny revolver to dispatch the baddie with extreme prejudice. Those were the days when we didn’t ask questions -- like why you would surrender a gun barrel-first anyway.
And in those days we weren’t asking many questions about whether governments or corporations were the ones doing the spying on us. From Snowden to drones, retail cameras to NSA snooping, the surveillance trope took hold in 2013. For digital marketers, the unanticipated upside in all of this is that cookie tracking now seems like small potatoes, almost like a deflection from much more pressing privacy concerns.
It's clear there is money to be made from consumer concerns -- the real spy toys of holiday 2013 are essentially consumer-grade cloaking devices. Yes, folks, forget the new iPad and smoothie blender this season. What you really want is a privacy shield. I first took note of this trend when popular online anti-virus company AVG issued a new set of tools designed to protect your movements from retailer scrutiny on Android phones. The company’s PrivacyFix product purports to simplify and streamline settings in the major social networks. But at the same time it offers a block against WiFi tracking on Android. It automatically turns off WiFi when you are no longer in range of pre-approved WiFi network.
Ah, but that is only the tip of the anti-snooping trend this holiday. Apparently one of the best ways to outfit yourself against everything from phone tracking to drone strikes is to go the New Museum gift shop in Manhattan. Here you will find the hottest surveillance-thwarting items of the season. For instance there is the OFF Pocket Phone Case. According to the pitch, “simply place your phone inside the case and close it. Your phone is now OFF. Untrackable. Unhackable. Undistractable.”
Now that RFID chips are showing up in contactless credit cards, concerns (real or imagined, given the range of the technology) have emerged about wallet hacking. The fear is that enterprising identity thieves will be able to lift and crack these encrypted wireless receivers to render access to your bank and credit accounts. A metal dollar bill ($18.75 on sale) weaves copper fibers into a bill-sized insert for your wallet designed to block attempts at “RFID skimming.”
So much for stocking stuffers. For the fashion-conscious privacy fan, nothing beats the Adam Harvey line of drone-thwarting outerwear. Designed to cloak your heat signature so it remains invisible to the guidance system of drone controlled explosive, the Anti-Drone clothing comes in various styles for men and women. There is the Anti-Drone Hoodie for dodging incoming ordinance while remaining street stylish. There is the Anti-Drone Scarf and the Anti-Drone Burqa.
Also available are typefaces designed to confound optical character readers. I have found audio jammers designed to mask conversations from voice snoops. And in a mirror of my James Bond attaché case from childhood, I found a $1,000 “Countermeasures Set”: a set of tools for detecting IR eavesdropping, video cams, wiretaps, implanted bugs, etc. -- all ready to fit into a briefcase.
I am telling you, nothing says you care more than putting the right surveillance protection under the Christmas tree this season.
From satirical to serious: Giving the gift of anonymity is a telling response to a year of surveillance revelations. Whether and how heightened scrutiny over snooping, tracking and privacy translates into actual legislation is anyone’s guess. Arguably this could be a tipping point that results in serious regulatory action. Or it could be seen as a necessary explosion of concern that gets us acclimated to a new distressing normal.
On the other hand, without advanced tracking technologies, how in the world would NORAD be able to tell kids where Santa is on Christmas Eve? If Santa can opt in, so can the rest of us.