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FAST FORWARD: Private and Congenial

FAST FORWARD: Private and Congenial

Something about Sandra Bullock strikes me the right way. She has a charisma that gets you smiling even when the material is weak. Like her role in Miss Congeniality, which is really a pretty ghastly movie. For those of you who are B-kids (read B for before, beyond or bilaterally opposed to) and don't get to see all the second-grade movies kids love, it's about a beauty show contestant (Bullock's character) who goes through a shamelessly borrowed Pygmalion process to become more beautiful and more popular.

Which is what we'd all like to be! More beautiful and more popular. My concern is that the December 21 privacy laws could change all that. Their introduction probably won't have much effect on my perceived beauty but my perceived popularity is seriously at risk.

Picture this. Every morning as I open my e-mails my heart sings with joy as I realise just how incredibly popular I am. Every spammer on the globe has written to me with helpful information and advice. My self-esteem soars as all my new friends wish to share their hard-found secrets on diet, devotion and Viagra. Of course, they become the victim of the delete button before I even open them, but it's a reassuring way to start the day and beats all those affirmations to the bathroom mirror!

Next are the calls from strangers who in the name of CRM seem to know an extraordinary amount of information about me. To encourage me to come to a seminar they are able to remind me that it is 20 years since I took my university degree and that I could do with a course to get the old grey matter moving. And the best news (salesperson giving me benefits rather than features) is that the course is finished by 5pm which means I could still be at school to pick up the little ones in time. Amazing that they have taken so much trouble to find out about little old me. Uh-huh.

When I've finally managed a smidgen of work among all the calls from these well-informed strangers, it's time to go home. This is where the real sycophancy begins. As I shell the peas the phone starts ringing. Again, I've never actually met this nice person from the market research company but they really need my help, they know an extraordinary amount about me and what's more they want to know more. I'd like to tell you I'm a sucker and spend the requested 20 minutes chatting with them but by then they've served their purpose: the phone has rung (yippee I'm popular), they know my maiden name and the brand of my television. So coolly I give them the flick by curtly explaining how busy I am. I guess they add that to my file.

But it could all go away. I could exercise my right to privacy by opening all those e-mails and hitting the opt-out option. I could strong-arm the seminar salesman into providing me with his Susan Searle dossier. I could be even ruder to the market research company and not only curtail that phone call, but demand to be removed from all databases.

What would I be left with? I fear the Miss Congeniality process in reverse. How to become less popular and less beautiful in one easy privacy law. Everybody sees our right to privacy as motherhood-given, but did the legislators think of the profound effect the law would have on the lonely hearts of this world?


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