When it comes to privacy and your personal information, the NSA is not the organization we need to worry about the most, data brokers are.
As I discussed on Monday, data brokers are busy compiling detailed profiles not only of your likes and dislikes, but considerably more personal information than the NSA, including but not limited to, any diseases you might have and even your sexual orientation, and much of it is done in a clever way.
“Take 5 Solutions,” a data broker in Boca Raton, Fla.,” 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft says, “runs 17 websites likeGoodParentingToday.com and T5 HealthyLiving.com, where people can share stories about their families and health. What web visitors don’t realize is that Take 5’s real business is collecting and selling the information.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“…if you’re one of the billion people who have downloaded the popular game app Angry Birds to your smart phone, or you were one of the 50 million people who downloaded Brightest Flashlight Free app, you didn’t realize that the companies that gave them to you for free were using the apps to track your every movement and pass it along to other companies.”
Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill says, “Your smartphones are basically little mini tracking devices. And it’s collecting information about where you are traveling through the day as it’s on in your pocket or in your purse.”
“…the iPhone app for Path Social,” Kroft says, “which was designed to help young people share photos and memories with friends, was caught sneaking into users’ digital address books and filching their contact information.”
Steve Kroft: “This app was going into people’s phones and collecting that information without their knowledge?”
Julie Brill: “Right. It was downloading their contact list off of their phone, their smartphone. Consumers don’t know who the data brokers are. They don’t know the names of these companies. They have no way to know, ‘What — well, what website am I supposed to go to? Who do I call? What letter do I write?’ ”
“The Senate Commerce Committee and its chairman, Jay Rockefeller, have proposed legislation that would do just that. The committee has been investigating the industry for more than a year and Sen. Rockefeller says he is being stonewalled by three of its biggest players: Axciom, Epsilon and Experian.”
The real concern, as Kroft points out, is that people can utilize this information to determine whether you get a mortgage, a job, health insurance without knowing about it or perhaps even correct faulty information – a digital form of “redlining” the practice of denying or charging more for services based on specialized information such as race, income level, etc.
So, what can we do? Until legislation is passed to control all the information collected by data brokers the best defense is a good offense.
First, lower your personal profile on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
Next, subscribe to software like Cocoon that allows you to browse the Web via a proxy server. When you sign in with a user name and password, you are routed through Cocoon’sservers which act as a proxy allowing you to move throughout the internet anonymously.
Also, be alert to e-mails that ask you to take a free survey. Typically, people respond to surveys that ask a lot of personal background information in exchange for being entered into a contest where you have a chance of winning a cash prize of some kind. It may, in fact, be legitimate, but it’s also another way for the data brokers to collect more information about you.
Be careful about using too many cell phone applications. Yes, they may be free, but they’re also collecting and sharing information about you, and possibly downloading your contact list without you knowing.
Knowledge, ultimately, is power. Take the time to think about how much information you really want to share, even with friends and family. When it comes to the World Wide Web, remember, it’s still very much the Wild West out there and for now, Wyatt Earp ain’t anywhere to be found.