Bicycle keys in the cloud

OK, I admit it, it was a stupid move: leaving my gloves and bicycle keys on the counter next to somebody else’s wallet, even though I only needed to pick up an ink cartridge at the computer shop.
But I got distracted by some cool stuff and when I returned to the counter my keys were gone.  The keys must have been put in a large bag by the owner of the wallet. The shopkeepers knew who owned the bag, because they mercilessly put every customer in the big database. However, it so happened that they did not record his phone number, and they did not want to give me his name and address. I could understand that, but in the meantime the consequences were that I had to walk home. They did have the customer’s e-mail address, even though it was the e-mail address of his girl friend.
Too bad the e-mail bounced, but I did manage to deconstruct a name from the address. I looked that up in a search engine, and lo and behold, it returned a hit in the neighborhood, with a phone number!
Unfortunately the phone number was no longer in service, so that was a tough call. But with the additional data this resulted in, I could find a woman on Facebook and LinkedIn and send her a message. Later that night the guy called. He was a bit flabbergasted as he told me that he had walked around all day with a set of keys, wondering where they’d come from. He was a bit absent minded, as he had not yet discovered the gloves.
Early next morning he returned all the stuff, with a little present to make up for the inconvenience.
What can we learn from this?
Retail companies are very fond of data gathering, while at the same time they know they should be careful in disseminating that data. Lots of databases are terribly polluted, both in companies as well as on the internet. At the same time, you don’t need a lot of data to track down a person. Most people can be trusted, in this case the shop’s staff and the customer. Facebook and LinkedIn are the new phone books. When in a shop, don’t get distracted by ‘bright shiny objects’.

Concluding, privacy is not simply a matter of bad big corporations versus powerless individuals. We need to think this through a bit further. 

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