Blog Post

How Much Internet Privacy Really Exists?

Wed, 12 Dec.

How would you feel if, the next time you call your local pizza parlor, the order-taker asks you if you’re sure you want pepperoni, because he can see that your blood pressure was high at your last physical exam? Or if you want to pay for the pizza using your secondary credit card, because you’re nearing your credit limit on your primary card?

Think this scenario is too outrageous to be true? Think again.

Every time you purchase a product, run a search query, or even send an email, companies you trust collect private information about you. While this fact in and of itself probably isn’t revelatory, what might – and should – give you pause is that these companies sell your information to others. So while you might not care if the fact you own a Viking stove becomes public, you would more than likely feel differently if your life insurance policy information, your private contact information, or your personal schedule became openly available to everyone on the Internet.

In fact, recent surveys validate these concerns. According to a survey of data statisticians and scientists – a profession that’s growing by leaps and bounds, commensurate with the data generated each day – by Revolution Analytics, nine out of ten respondents believe that consumers should be concerned about the privacy of the data collected on them. In other words, the people who are paid by companies to collect and analyze data about you think you should be worried!

If you think I’m referring to data that’s at risk of being stolen by hackers, I’m not. And if you think this doesn’t apply to you, you have your head in the sand. Consider this your wake-up call.

Next time you are online, and you’re doing business with a company that collects your private information, make sure you educate yourself. Understand what they do – and don’t do – with your data.

For example, I’m sure you’ve experienced the increasingly common practice by some well-known, household name companies of providing suggested products based on your recent purchases, likes, or searches. While these companies are forthcoming about the fact that they use information gleaned from users for advertising, what control do you have over how they use it? Would you feel the same about their use of your data if they advertised the fact that you endorse a specific product to your network of colleagues and friends when you have actually never used it as you would if they simply use your information to suggest other products or sites back to you?

For those of you using cloud-based services, think about this: some popular cloud storage sites actually state in their disclaimers that any data you store on their servers is their property. What does that mean? Could that business plan you stored in the cloud last week show up as a new product idea at another company – legally?

All of these examples are real. They are not fantasy. But no one is going to protect you unless you protect yourself. It is your responsibility to educate yourself about the privacy practices of companies that collect information from you, so you don’t find yourself unknowingly endorsing a new weight-loss formula — or looking at your own life insurance policy on a public web site.

Edward Kinsey