Your Information is For Sale

Big data is a booming business in today’s world. With companies wanting more information about consumers, and data analytics becoming easier for large companies, you might want to be informed of what information they are gathering.

So, where is all this information collected from?

You. Whenever you purchase something from almost any store, your information is collected. It may not be surprising that stores keep a record of what you buy, but it is noteworthy that these stores are all more than willing to sell your information to big data collectors like Datalogix.

Is any of my data private?

There are some limits on what can and cannot be sold. Unfortunately, this list of restrictions are not very long. Of course, medical data cannot be sold under HIPAA regulations. Other information, such as anything that may have to do with your credit score is also somewhat prohibited from selling or purchasing under the Fair Credit Act. These restrictions however, are fairly loose.

Finding out that you have a medical condition is not very difficult for these big data companies. For example, if you search online for allergy medicine or home remedies for back pains, your search data is collected and then sold to these companies. In fact, some health insurance are purchasing data to predict future medical conditions based on purchases such as plus-sized clothing.

Target gives us an example of data analytics gone wrong. According to an article featured in Forbes, Target knew that a young girl was pregnant before her parents knew. Target began sending the girl coupons for baby clothes and cribs and the father confronted Target thinking that they were encouraging her teenage daughter to get pregnant. After speaking with his daughter, he found out that she was in fact pregnant and Target’s algorithms had picked this up and began targeting the girl.

After this scandal, Target changed the way they targeted consumers.

A Target executive is quoted in the New York Times saying, “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance. And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

The largest asset to data collection companies is social media.

Facebook recently purchased a patent from Friendster, a company that created algorithms from big data collections. In this case, Facebook can now determine your credit score based on your online friends. While the Fair Credit Opportunity Act prohibits certain ways to determine how an individual can get a loan, this algorithm may be used to decide on people who are borderline to begin with.

Would it make you feel better to know that you can find out what information they know about you and have them delete it?

Well, that’s not possible, at least not yet. Some companies that collect data will tell you what data they have about you, but often this is not the full report. There is usually a fee and it’s not one single company you would have to request the information from. There is an option to opt-out of this as well, but taking the time to track down all of the data brokers may take quite a bit of time.

Are you using Windows 10?

Windows 10 by default includes Cortana Digital Assistant. This includes access to all your personal information as well as sending your searches to Bing to improve future results and ads. This is data collection, so as long as you are fine with Microsoft building a database about you and predicting what food you like, what ads you want to see, as well as a host of other personal information, don’t worry about any of this.

For those with Windows 10, a quick Google search will lead to instructions to disable Cortana from collecting data. This is not just Microsoft. Google, Apple and most of your favorite stores also use your information for their own gain.