I Forgot That My Amazon Wish List Was Public

And That Made My Digital Footprint Vulnerable To Harassment

Getting to “good enough” about your own digital security is as much a matter of psychology as any other domain of experience. Specifically: cognitive science.  Specifically, in the case of the latest lapse I discovered in trying to lock down my digital footprint, my hippocampus: the seat of memory consolidation and recall. I learned (again) that my Amazon Wish List is public.

Some of you might know this because your Wish List is public because you’ve chosen to make it public.  It’s your get-me-this-gift registry. And that’s cool.  But I used it as a place to store a list of books, paraphernalia, nick-knacks, gadgets, and items that I intended to one day purchase and didn’t have the resources or desire to pay for them at that moment. 

Last night, I learned that there were some potentially compromising items on that list.  Nothing terribly embarrassing, but potentially compromising. If someone wanted to find out what my personal vulnerabilities are, my trigger points, the parts of my biography that I’m sensitive to, a browse through that list would be sufficient. I spent a half hour cleaning it up.  If you look at the list now, you’ll see a curated list of books that I’ve browsed through. My vulnerabilities are hidden. 

The point: when I started using the Wish List in 2009, I guess I knew that it was public.  Then I forgot. Because we forget things.  And for the next eleven years, it because a repository of stuff I wanted to buy, some of which happen to be the type of things that I wouldn’t want others to know that I was looking at. If you’ve forgotten this too, go check your settings.  Get rid of your public wish list unless you use it for public reasons.  While you’re at it, go into your Amazon privacy settings and do a scrub.  Enable Two-Factor Authentication immediately.

Farhad Manjoo wrote this week about the existential benefits and drawbacks of the Amazon shopping experience. I align with his views.

Amazon is pushing a level of speed, convenience, and selection in shopping that millions of customers are integrating into their daily lives. The more entrenched Amazon gets, the tougher the political case for breaking the company up becomes, especially if you consider the demographic makeup of Amazon’s best customers. Compared to Wal-Mart (which still reigns as by far the largest retailer in the world), Amazon’s customers tend to be affluent, excessive consumers. Many Amazon devotees are exactly like me — they are part of the global elite in the media, politics, finance, and tech, upper-middle-class consumers whose chief hardship is having more money than time, and who may not take too kindly to their conveniences being snatched away in the name of corporate equality.

Our USC Election Cybersecurity initiative traveled to Ohio this week, where, under the brilliant golden dome in the statehouse, we met with 150 campaign and election workers.  The Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, is a Republican. It is tempting, in our highly polarized times, to ignore state officials with any partisan affiliation, and a lot of folks might do so automatically. But I found that LaRose has worked hard to build a rapport with Democrats BECAUSE he understands that election integrity for voters is a second order priority that requires that he be trusted.  When voters think as partisans, forget it.  When voters think as voters, then LaRose’s work becomes essential.  He has forged a good relationship with his neighbor, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson – a Democrat -- because he knows that, absent a national strategy (and enough money coming from the feds) to secure everything, the more that states work together, the more information they share about best practices, the more they work through problems together, the more secure their election processes will be, and more importantly, the more secure people will perceive it to be.

Not that Ohio (or LaRose) comes to the public sphere without controversy. Democrats and Republicans will fight about ballot access and fight fiercely. I spoke a number of top Democrats about LaRose, and while each of them could find fault in one or more his decisions, none questioned his motive.  He knows that getting buy-in from voters about the integrity of the election is essential. He wants Republicans to accept that Democrats win and Democrats to accept that Republicans win.  It’s a good look for a public official. 

Another good practice: his communications team is aggressive, digitally savvy, and proactive. They’re preparing for problems before they arise. They use all forms of social media to communicate, and LaRose is a ubiquitous presence on Twitter. He’s branding himself quite self-consciously as a leader in election security and integrity, and it seems to be working.