Mary Beth Writes

 “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.”

When one of our kids was 8-years old, Len thought it would be fun to let that kid drive his car. I swear - though I doubt you will believe me - no drinking was involved. Len just really believes in our kids and sometimes this turns into bigger adventures than one would expect.

Did I mention the car was in the garage so it needed to be backed out? Also, the child in question was too short to adequately reach the pedals.

Eight-year olds rarely drive well. The car ended up at the end of our driveway; back bumper in the ditch, front end nose up.

Right then our neighbor who was also our insurance agent, drove by. Chris stopped, looked at the undamaged car in the ditch, looked at our tiny scared kid, then looked at Len in the passenger seat who was urgently saying, “It’s okay, it was me that was dumb, not you. You are not in trouble.”

First Chris shook his head. “Starting them a little young, aren’t you?”

 Then Chris laughed. “I’ve got a chain in the garage.  I can pull you out.”

the car Len had back then

And that is why we never changed our insurance company.  There were a few other times where Chris was on our side before we knew there were sides to be on so we never changed away from his company, not even when he sold the business. We are loyal like collies are loyal. Loyal first, smart second.

Last year (24 years since the car in the ditch) I thought it was possibly time to look at other insurance options.

I googled “car and house insurance” and found a plethora of sites that wanted my social security number. Nope, not starting there. 

Saw a site that said “We won’t ask for your SSN.” Cool. I filled out the info. Name, address, phone number, the info about our vehicle.

Clicked send - and in less than one minute (not kidding) - I had a phone call from a car insurance company and for the next month I received several calls per day. It was obnoxious and unsettling.  The come on was for insurance quotes but their business was selling my info.

Len, who spent his working career in advertising and marketing, was the first to tell me this quote that one can find attributed to many people. “If you aren’t paying for the product, you ARE the product.”

As you know, I read frugality-oriented websites. Many people mention the rebates, sales, coupons, and gift certificates they earn at sites like Swagbucks, eBates, and Ibotta. I checked them out; the first thing one does is tell these companies one’s name, address, age, birthdate, some info about grocery buying habits, medical and medication-buying situations of people in your home, the ages of your kids, and more.

I tried to push through. After all, some people are using these apps to earn an extra $20-50 a month – so isn’t it worth it? 

Not for me. All I got was ads, ads, ads and more ads.

I think if people like to play games, those apps might actually be fun. If those people worry less about their privacy and more about affording their lives, I will give them credit for being proactive.

And yes, Len and I have loyalty cards for two grocery stores. You can tell they track us because we get so many coupons for yogurt and cottage cheese and none for champagne or steaks.


A few months ago an “automatic” update popped up on my Words with Friends game – the game I had paid $10 to join several years ago. When I read further into the update - yes they could and would save my “chats” for as long as they wanted to.  I could request what they had about me but when I googled to learn more I found an article by a person who described how much work that was. It took that inquiry a month and in the end, Word with Friends had the transcripts of all the chats between that person and their mother going back nearly a year.  So I quit WWF.  I guess I could have played without using the chat option, but in fact, it was the reason I played! Play a fun game and check in with friends.

I returned to simply emailing or texting friends. There are pretty good laws protecting the privacy of emails. Yes, others can hack emails and texts but that is a crime - not a right I gave away.

And then there is the latest Google scandal. Google knew since March of this year that a flaw in their Google+ service (which was supposed to compete with Facebook but never took off) allowed outside companies to look at the info of friends and clients of Google+ customers. Google didn’t mention this to anyone until they were outed on this huge loss of privacy flaw in October. Which means Google, just like the other mega social media companies, is 100% about protecting their $ and not our privacy.

Where am I going with all this?

Just these two points.

1. I am a healthy, low-consuming retired person. If my entire private life was hacked and published it would only be valuable to imaginative comedians. Why I feel so protective of my own information says more about me than it does about the info I don’t want them to have.

2. Nevertheless, I will be damned if I will let giant companies track me through my day in order to feather their algorithms.

I stopped using the Google search engine. I went to my apps, got  It’s a free search engine that doesn‘t track and store what I look up on the internet; I put it on my phone and laptop. Last year Google made 85 BILLION DOLLARS tracking and selling our searches. DuckDuckGo made a million. They advertise, but their ads correspond to what you just searched for. I just typed in donkeys and in addition to a lot of info about donkeys, I got an ad for where to buy them. When I close out of donkeys, I will never get a donkey ad again. If I type in “I hear voices” I get ads for music, some books, some psychological clinics, but when I move on, it’s done. They don’t track or save what we look up. Have you ever googled “I hear voices”? There’s a highway that never ends…

Look at the Settings on your phone from time to time.  Turn off ‘location’ and see if you can live that way. It is less handy (you need ‘location’ on to use Google maps and who among us doesn’t need Google maps?) but it also keeps your location private which might be valuable to you. I resent walking into a store and suddenly my phone is telling me what’s on sale there. All that eavesdropping on my life, and they don’t think I have a list with me?

We talked to our insurance company – yes, the company we’ve had 25 years. When I called a guy answered. Len and I put him on speaker phone and had a 20-minute conversation. He said he’d look at our needs and situation. A week later he sent a detailed email to switch parts of our coverage - which will be significantly cheaper.  So we continue with this company where when we call, a human being answers and they don’t sell our info to anyone else.  

I don’t have one tight point to make in this posting because we, humans of the 21st century, are in the middle of this social media revolution.  There is no way to maximize money AND maximize savings AND maximize privacy.  We will all have to figure out where we will come down in places that work for us. 

In the meantime, pay attention.

And most of all, if you have something private, don’t tell it to Trump. The Chinese and the Russians ARE listening.



I'm with you on the loyalty thing. I've been with the same auto insurance for 30 years -- when I had my one and only accident 10 years ago, the repair cost over $5K and they paid it even though the car was not worth much more than $5K -- I was grateful because a payout on a total would not have bought me a nearly as good car. I am fairly sure that I could get a cheaper deal & maybe just as good coverage from another company, but the one I have treated me well and I have a real person to talk to when I have questions -- in today's world, that is a big deal. I love Len's quote, “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.” -- that is truer than ever in today's world.

Thanks. I've heard people discuss their Internet obtained car insurance, but I've never heard them discuss it with respect or relief for support rec'd.

I love that you do so much research for us all and that you share that information. Cute story about Len and M. (I’m assuming that 8 year old was M.)

Hah. If by research you mean I live my life until I stumble into roadblocks and then, later, I write about them...

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