Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

Summary: Data mining companies sell our personal data for pocket change, without a care for our personal privacy. It's time this travesty stopped.

SHARE:

Recently on Reddit, regular contributor LawyerCT presented a list of top sites that collect, store and sell access to your personal data, and provided the methods for removing yourself from these databases.

I'm an advocate for personal privacy online. People are entitled to be secure in the knowledge that their personal information doesn't fall into the hands of identity thieves and scammers.

As we've seen recently, groups like Anonymous and the offshoot LulzSec have proven that the lax security at companies we're expected to trust are incapable of keeping their promises.

Also See:

It's more than just security that's at issue here. There are a number of companies out there that collect your personal information, both public and private, and put it up for sale. In a nutshell, the entirety of their business is based upon invading your privacy. This doesn't even involve the information about yourself that you put on Twitter and Facebook.

Admittedly, most of the information that is available is on public record; if you own property, or have had legal issues that ended up in court, there is a record of it that is available to the public if they seek it. The data mining companies, however, make it a lot easier and cheaper to get at this information.

Not all of these sites are consistent. Some of them honor your phone number and address being unlisted from directory assistance. Others do not; I have found my unlisted address and phone number on several services. They gleefully advertise how you can get enough information on a person to make a stalker's day for as little as a dollar.

There was a time not so long ago when collecting this information would have taken weeks or months to acquire documents from various agencies, and it would cost hundreds of dollars. Isn't the information age great?

It gets worse. While LawyerCT did yeoman's work collecting the methods of removing yourself from these "services", there are a number of drawbacks. For one thing, information is currency to them. They don't want to let go of your data without a fight.

The methods they use are not only draconian in the way they make it difficult to get unlisted, they also require information about you that gives them exact confirmation and correction of the information they already have on you. It smacks of the methods spammers use to confirm your email address: they pretend to let you unsubscribe, when in fact you are confirming a legitimate email address where they can send even more junk.

It used to be that LexisNexis was the only legitimate company you could access to seek this kind of information. You had to be a corporate subscriber from a legitimate business, and it was very expensive. Now for a relatively low fee, any anonymous schmoe on the internet can get your entire financial history, everywhere you've lived, all of your relatives, your criminal record, and much more.

To be honest, I would like to see an end to all of these data mining companies. Their only purpose is to collect information on people and sell it to other people. They are no better than spammer services that sell lists of email addresses for the sole purpose of sending them junk email.

Just like spammers, these companies never bothered to ask us if we wanted to be listed in their database. They never asked us if we wanted to have our personal information made available to any jerk on the internet that disagreed with you on a message board and has decided that your pets need to die for your insolence.

They never asked if we wanted identity thieves to know everything about us so they could steal from us and not get caught.

They never asked a divorced woman if she minds that her violent ex-husband can find out where she lives now.

Demand to be unlisted immediately. Refusals to comply should be forwarded to the FTC and your congressional representative. Anyone who says that "you shouldn't be worried if you have nothing to hide" is using a straw man argument, and a weak one at that. Anyone using that argument should be required to put their home address, phone number and social security number up on their Facebook page.

Hey, you don't have anything to hide, right?

Everyone has a right to privacy. If I have a right to lock my doors at night and pull the blinds so random people on the street can't just watch me while I sleep or walk into my house, then I have a right to have my personal information kept safe from the same kind of people.

Topics: Collaboration, Data Centers, Enterprise Software, Mobility, Security, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

27 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

    "<i>Anyone using that argument should be required to put their home address, phone number and social security number up on their Facebook page. Hey, you don?t have anything to hide, right?</i>"

    Not public enough.
    How about the Bing.com, Google.com, etc. search pages?
    lehnerus2000
  • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

    Brokers are a big problem, but not the biggest or most dangerous. The biggest data-miner of them all, it is the basis of their business model, is Google.

    Why are so few people worried? Why do so many of the techies on these blogs continue to use and recommend Gmail, Chrome, Docs, G+, etc. Can any of you imagine the damage that could be done if the enormous amount of data accumulated by Google were released or sold? Do you really imagine that you can ever delete your data from Google?

    All the rest are small fry!
    jorjitop
    • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

      @jorjitop Google's business model isn't about selling who you personally are though. It's about being the intermediary, which is what makes their business model different and far less problematic. Information brokers sell your identity, Google's secret sauce is keeping that secret and selling ads targeted to bins of people who match criteria. Google is both the ad network and the data aggregator, and so they have no reason to sell that data, in fact selling it would decrease their value considerably, so they're incented not to sell it.
      snoop0x7b
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @snoop0x7b
        I am not worried about them selling your data. But, given that they have the biggest databank of anybody, I am worried about the data being leaked.

        Google may not be "evil". But, anybody with that much information (power) becomes a threat. They have too much potential to do harm. There have already been "minor" leaks of data in their attempts to build social networks. And, there has already been misuse of data internally, in following young girls. Wait for the big one.
        jorjitop
  • And we don't...

    even get paid when these people profit from our information. I believe in a free and mostly unregulated Internet. But I take exception to those who use our personal info for profit or malice. I would favor draconian regulations to protect our privacy and stiff penalties for those who violate those regs.
    neverhome
    • Message has been deleted.

      snoop0x7b
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @snoop0x7b in another words you would like to blame other people for your stupidity, don't you? It is not like they are mining the data that are not available otherwise.
        pupkin_z
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @snoop0x7b <br><br>Public floggings +1<br>Kick to the nuts, no, actually, I would rather <i>use a machete.</i>
        fatman65535
  • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

    Once it is out there on these sites it is impossible to get it removed without spending a small fortune in fees.
    Those fees should not be required to get your data removed.
    RobertMoore12@...
  • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

    Of course, not that we like to brag, but over here in Europe such practices are not only generally regarded as immoral, but are also illegal - in some countries (Germany), criminal. The EC Data Directive makes it illegal to pass anybody's data without each individual's overt permission.

    Maybe the US needs a data privacy law?

    John Paterson
    www.reallysimplesystems.com
    JohnPaterson
    • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

      @JohnPaterson Speaking as an American, I have resigned myself to the fact that our government no longer represents the will of the people. Even the tea party movement is a front for big business like the Koch brothers and Dick Armey, the sole purpose of which is to dismantle government regulations so that the super rich and large corporations can operate without interference at the expense of the American people.

      So yes, I would love to have European laws here that actually protect individual human rights, but I don't think we're ever going to see them again in the US. Data privacy? Every day a new bill is introduced designed to erode our privacy, usually in direct conflict with the constitution. But this is what you get when lawmakers are incapable of drafting law, and instead leave it to the corporate lobbyists. The inmates are running the asylum.
      Scott Raymond
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @Scott Raymond
        @JohnPaterson

        Totally agreed with both you. But there are only two ways that it might change in America:
        (1) Somehow associate protecting individual privacy with generous campaign contributions and politician pocket-lining, or;
        (2) A somewhat more entertaining solution involving politicians, ropes, and lamp-posts...
        mmoran@...
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @Scott Raymond

        Yep, but the really sad part is how oblivious the people are to this. The whole dem/rep deal fills their little heads with such garbage that they don't even think for themselves of what's really going on out there
        X107
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @Scott Raymond
        You clearly do not know much about European society. I live in Europe, and you have not seen goverment intrusiveness until you live here.

        Don't forget, Europe is the birthplace of socialism, and socialism believes in the common good ahead of that of the individual. Sounds good until you discover how "they" define the common good.
        jorjitop
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @Scott Raymond
        Thank you for posting the truth. I learned their methods by studying the late 1920's - early 1930's Great Depression. It's a pity that the general population doesn't understand who is behind all the political/financial confusion of this era.
        howdougd@...
      • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

        @jorjitop

        I live in Europe too, and it is obvious that your preconceptions overrides any facts.
        The facts being that most European countries DO have privacy laws.
        The main reason they are so keen on having them is that they have seen very clearly how the lack of it can be a big RISK, should the wrong people get into power.
        hkommedal
    • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

      @JohnPaterson Completely agree.
      snoop0x7b
  • Just register your name as a trademak

    Anyone using your name without your permission is infringing on your trademark, and can be sued!
    hanamc@...
    • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

      @hanamc@...
      That can be a problem if your name is McDonald or something.
      hkommedal
  • RE: Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

    This is hilarious. All the anti-intellectual property fanatics are now whinging about their 'private' data. Consistency is such a pain, huh guys?
    Vesicant