A smoke screen

May 10, 2007
I was enjoying some Friday night cocktails with college buddies a few weeks back, when one of them proudly displayed a brand spanking new lighter he got following a conversation with an attractive woman.

Turns out, that cute female was a promoter for one of the big tobacco companies, and she was surveying bar patrons who smoked on which brands they preferred.

My friend told her Camel lights, and as a reward, got a new Zippo lighter.

"That's all it took?" I asked, ready to get out of my seat and declare my eight-year affiliation with Marlboro Lights.

"That's it," he responded.

"Oh, and she just had to scan my driver's license," he added. "You know, I guess to make sure I was legal."

Of course, being a IT security writer, I stayed in my seat.

I got to thinking, that lighter was far from free. He gave up an official identification - containing his name, birth date, address, license number - raising some fairly interesting privacy concerns.

Now Big Tobacco has all of this PII stored. What are they planning to do with it? Who are they sharing it with? How are they protecting it? It's doubtful the cigarette promoter would have known any of those answers, even if my buddy had the awareness to ask.

The University of Texas school newspaper wrote on this very topic after a smoke-free law was passed in the state.

I don't know about you, but in this day and age, any chance I get to remain private, I jump at it.
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