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Data Brokering

Data brokers suck up anything and everything they can about you.
(Image used under: Creative Commons 4.0 [SRC])

At first you might not believe me when I say that your information is valuable. Where you eat, how much you spend for Christmas, your struggle with weight… all these things give companies an advantage in convincing you to give money to them andcompanies are only too happy to use every advantage against you so long as they make money.

Here's how that plays out:

Step 1: Get as much of your data as possible

While doing business with someone, they ask for information they don't actually need. Sometimes they do it to support planned future capabilities; sometimes for targeted marketing; and sometimes solely for the purpose of reselling the information to people who care more than they do. Regardless, your data is big business and it seems like everyone is poking and prodding you to give up as much data as possible even in grossly inappropriate ways.

I was once asked for my social security number at a video rental store before they'd rent videos to me!

The best way to do this of course is to create a site or service where you will choose to volunteer personal data about yourself for no particular reason. For example: Facebook. Facebook openly uses the information in your profile to target ads to you (sometimes in quite insulting ways):

With the knowledge that I was engaged to be married, the site splashed an ad across the left side of the screen playing into a presumed vulnerability. Do you want to be a fat bride? You'd better go to such-and-such Web site to learn how to lose weight before the big day.

Which brings us to step number 2…

Step 2: Use all the data to market to your interests (and also your weaknesses and insecurities).

It's just business.
(Image is in the Public Domain)

Ads that attack you on a personal level for profit aren't necessarily a mistake or just coincidence. Sometimes, it's the direct result of marketing designed to take advantage of you:

Facebook showed advertisers how it has the capacity to identify when teenagers feel “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”, according to a leaked documents based on research quietly conducted by the social network.

The internal report produced by Facebook executives, and obtained by the Australian, states that the company can monitor posts and photos in real time to determine when young people feel “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless” and a “failure”.

Facebook is notable in being very visible and public, but most brokering happens quietly and unseen… because most people would be horrified if they knew what was for sale:

Some extremely sensitive information can be sold very cheaply. World Privacy Forum Executive Director Pam Dixon’s testimony before the U.S. Senate included a screen cap showing that MEDbase 200 was selling lists of rape victims for 7.9 cents per name, as well as similarly-priced lists of those suffering from HIV/AIDs, genetic diseases, addictive behavior (conveniently broken down into sub-categories like gambling, sex, alcohol, and drugs) and dementia. The listings were taken down soon after Dixon’s testimony.

Loose controls and regulation of credit-based data brokering (in the form of credit reports) is the single biggest cause of ID Theft and now we're seeing companies profiting from victims, emotional weakness, and addicts. The scope and intensity of the consequences of rampant and uncontrolled data-brokering remain to be seen.

Data brokering (in the form of credit reports) is responsible for the vast majority of ID Theft. To learn more about how that happens and (more importantly) how to stop it, check out my Goodbye Identity Theft course.

Fixing the problem

If you don't keep my data on file, you can't lose it

We need strong regulation and stiff consequences as soon as possible, but until that happens, the only way to be safe is to fight data-brokering as much as you can by developing a mindset of privacy and Out and About Defense and keeping your information out of databases as much as you can. They can't lose, share, or abuse it if they don't have it!


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