– A booming market for your online identity
A HUGE, mostly hidden industry is raking in billions collecting, analyzing, and sharing personal information you put on the Web. Should you be worried? Make no mistake; your personal data isn’t your own. When you update your Facebook page, “like” something on a website, apply for a credit card, click on an ad, listen to an MP3, or comment on a YouTube video, you are feeding a huge and growing beast with an insatiable appetite for your personal data, a beast that always craves more. Virtually every piece of personal information that you provide online (and much that you provide offline) will end up being bought and sold, segmented, packaged, analyzed, repackaged, and sold again.
The “personal data economy” comprises a menagerie of advertisers, marketers, ad networks, data brokers, website publishers, social networks, and online tracking and targeting companies, for all of which the main currency — what they buy, sell, and trade — is personal data.
Their databases pull user information from a long list of sources — everything from birth certificates to browsing history to Facebook “likes” — and they’re becoming better at finding patterns in the data that predict what you might do or buy in the future. A child born in 2012 will leave a data footprint detailed enough to assemble a day-by-day, even a minute-by-minute, account of his or her entire life, online and offline, from birth until death.
And the databases that collect this information are increasingly hyper connected — they can trade data about you in milliseconds.
Facebook is the face of the personal data economy. Its entire business is aggregating the personal data that its users give at the site. Today, Facebook uses that mountain of personal data to help advertisers target ads on the Facebook site. However, as many observers have said, Facebook’s investors are likely to pressure the now-public company to look for new ways to “monetize” its personal data.
I think we’re accepting more privacy invasions each day, sometimes because we don’t realize what we’re giving out, other times because we don’t feel we have a choice, other times because the harm of this isolated transaction seems so remote.The widespread and largely unregulated collection, sharing, sale, and storage of massive amounts of consumer data are a threat to all of us. Once collected, our data ends up in unexpected — and unwanted — places, and spam emails; inclusion in harmful information databases; and even identity theft can follow.
Combining Online and Offline Data
Personal data has become far easier to access and accumulate than it used to be. Long before we started cataloguing our lives on the Internet, much of the information about us lived in hard-copy public record documents at the city hall, or the county courthouse. Those public records, which include birth data, real estate records, criminal records, political affiliation and voting records and more, have in recent years been scanned, digitized, and otherwise fed into databases. That data is now being combined with our online personal data. Amazing right?
A whole industry of public records data companies has sprung up to ag¬¬gregate public records data from every city, county, and state in the union; and to make the data easily available online (for a price). Some of these firms are combining public records data (originally created offline, in the physical world) with online data (information that we give out via the Internet), such as personal data from social networks.
With the social networking revolution, the expectation of privacy is way down, and the … expectations of privacy with specific types of data … are still very much in flux.”
The Internet is huge! Not large, but huge, and there are lots of dark things hidden in it. As the Internet becomes more and more essential to our everyday lives, so do the risks of identity theft. There is a new breed of thief on the prowl, the Data Snatcher!
Be afraid. All those private details you think are safe, well, think again. Data snatchers can steal your data even from websites you think are safe. Before you know it, they’ll have your credit card details, private files and your identity.