Monday, June 05, 2006

I should have known better!!

I had the ridiculous good fortune of following advice about making money from doing surveys. Well didn’t I unleash the floodgates!!

I have had more spam and invites to sign up to idiotically stupid websites that it seems what I should have said is “Pick me!! Pick me!!”

Whilst I applaud the concept, haven’t they got it all wrong. Some permission marketing idiot decided tha the definition of permission marketing was that I put my head above the parapet. From then on it’s game on!.

The Privacy Policies are spurious. The effect is immediate.

Sign up to this, you go in the draw to win a toaster [from the US and I am in Australia}. You could go in the draw to win a prize of $1,500 dollars. In the draw. In the words of Cuba Gooding Junior…..”Show me the money!!’ not the feint hope of the merest sniff of the possibility of the chance to win a few bucks.

The story remains the same.

They get my name because I am dumb enough, and I get inundated by idiots…. There’s only one idiot in this game – and its not them.


Friday, May 26, 2006

The true value of privacy/access!!

My point exactly! No sooner had I posted my rant and I get a Spam “comment” from a survey company wanting me to join their survey group.

What don’t they get. There is one thing that annoys me more than getting requests, emails, whatever… from companies that want me to participate in helping them out, is that they turn around and make money from me. What do I get….. 10 points that I can trade in when I get finally save up 18,500 - for a multi function kitchen appliance or something equally as ludicrous and noteworthy-less!!

I want to control my privacy not have it invaded.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How much are your personal details worth?

By Jay MacDonald •

[Original online article can be found by clicking here ]


It's hardly breaking news that your personal information is being collected, aggregated, packaged and sold by data brokers every day. Each time you receive a credit card solicitation, mortgage flier or insurance offer, chances are good that the sender obtained at least some of your information from a commercial data broker.

How much are the details of your life worth on the open market?

The Swipe Toolkit, an online data calculator presented by the independent research consortium Preemptive Media, offers the going price on 46 items of personal data, including:





Phone number


Unpublished phone number


Cell phone number


Date of birth


Social Security number


Driver's license




Credit history


Bankruptcy details


Lawsuit information


Sex offender


Workers' comp history


Military record


Figures in the Swipe Toolkit calculator were compiled from a handful of major data brokers, most of which you've probably never heard of: Accurint, Aristotle, ChoicePoint, Choice Trust, DocuSearch, Experian, KnowX, Merlin Data and Pallorium.

Let's take a closer look at how data brokers get our information, what they do with it and the challenges they face to keep it secure.

Ghost in the machine
Commercial data brokers collect most of their information from public records, or from specialized data providers that mine public records, such as the RBOX regional operating Bell companies, which provide telephone information from the white pages.

In many cases, the data aggregators actually sell back to government and industry the same information they collected in the first place. In fact, we'd be stuck in the slow lane as a society if they didn't, according to James Lee, chief marketing officer for ChoicePoint, the industry leader based in Alpharetta, Ga.

"The infrastructure doesn't exist for the government to share data with itself, particularly within different levels of government," Lee says. "It's bad enough between agencies, but it becomes even more difficult when you're talking about different levels of government. Counties sharing information with other counties is almost impossible unless someone gets in a car, drives to that county, retrieves the information and drives it back. What the private sector does very well is build the infrastructure which allows that information, which is public, to flow freely across jurisdictional and geographical lines. That's the benefit that the private sector has brought to this process."

ChoicePoint offers data in four business categories: insurance (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange or CLUE reports), workplace solutions (for pre-employment background checks), government services (primarily used by law enforcement) and direct marketing (primarily used by financial institutions to market to existing customers). It also offers at a deep discount data to nonprofit groups who want to weed out criminals and sex offenders, for instance.

ChoicePoint's total revenue in 2005 was a record $1.1 billion, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. Lee says data acquisition is the company's largest cost. All that public information may be free, but it's far from cheap; last year, ChoicePoint paid $644 million to state governments for motor vehicle data alone.

Because data brokers are a business-to-business provider, they tend to be invisible to the consumer. In insurance, for instance, they aggregate underwriting information from the insurance carriers (which cannot share the data directly due to anti-trust laws) and sell it back to them. But when you apply for a job, a loan, an apartment, a mortgage or insurance, it's likely a commercial data broker database that cuts the waiting time from what was once days and even weeks to a few seconds today.

"They like that they can walk into a retail store and walk out with a flat-screen TV, but they don't see the ghosts in the machine that allow them to do that," says Lee.

When commercial data brokers do happen to be thrust into the spotlight, it's usually because of an embarrassing data breach, as happened last year to ChoicePoint. While the public was quick to pass judgment on data brokers in general, Lee says the numbers don't support the charge.

"There were 140 incidents publicly reported last year, and three of those involved information companies, but the public impression is that most or all involved information companies," he says. "The reality is, most of them were incidents involving colleges and universities, which accounted for half, or government agencies. But the public perception is very, very different."

Data stream pollution
Deborah Pierce, a San Francisco lawyer and executive director of the data watchdog group Privacy Activism, has one big problem with data brokers: data pollution.

In a study that Privacy Activism conducted on behalf of 11 participants that was too small to be statistically significant, it found that 73 percent of ChoicePoint's reports and 67 percent of rival Acxiom's contained significant errors in biographical information. The group is preparing to launch a second study.

"We were actually shocked," Pierce says. "It wasn't that every one of those errors was going to result in somebody not getting hired or losing a job, but it was just the notion that with that much data coming from so many different sources, there are problems in every single file that we saw, and some of those would keep people from getting jobs."

In Pierce's own 20-page report, she found a variety of odd listings: cars she never owned, addresses where she never lived, a recommendation to check Texas for criminal records even though she'd only been there two times, briefly, at conferences. It also confused her father with her brother and in one entry got her birth date wrong.

Lee says the major source of errors in public records is "fat-finger" or keystroke errors. While aggregators can correct bad data on things like CLUE reports, pre-employment reports, tenant screenings and other reports covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, as amended by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions, or FACT, Act of 2003, they are unable to correct errors in government records. And because many government records are still paper-based, that's where mistakes are likely to creep in.

Lauren Gelman, associate director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University, says the speed of technology today has changed the playing field when it comes to personal data and privacy rights.

"A lot of the privacy protections that we had in the past when it comes to our personal data came from the fact that the technology wasn't that great. For example, databases didn't speak to each other, so data that was collected for one purpose was very hard to use for another purpose or to transfer to another company if they didn't use the same database service. Because the transfer costs were so high, people actually got a certain amount of privacy protection just from that."

Today however, Gelman says storage space is so inexpensive that many companies are collecting and storing more information than they need in anticipation of finding a business use for it in the future.

She is equally concerned that government may be getting around privacy laws by buying information from industry through commercial data brokers. "This has become a big concern for people who care about privacy," she says. "It seems like there's a pretty big hole if they can just purchase information from private sector entities."

Transparency a good thing
ChoicePoint for one says it would welcome industry regulation such as the proposed Specter-Leahy bill now before Congress.

"We support the legislation; we support notification; we support the requirements to bring some standardization and oversight to the industry because that's what it's going to take to restore public trust," says Lee.

But Lee says the commercial-data-broker industry also recognizes the need to introduce itself to the public.

"It shouldn't be a choice between convenience and security; you can have both. But you have to have the appropriate level of oversight and there needs to be a better understanding of consumers knowing how their information is used and how they benefit. The mantra around here these days is, 'Why do you have my data, and how am I going to benefit from you using it?' That's something we're going to devote time and attention to going forward. Transparency is a good thing."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

What's your privacy really worth???

What’s your privacy really worth???

I had occasion to consider that the other day when I left my PDA in a cab. I know….it was a stupid thing to do and I am not given to random acts of stupidity, but I was on the phone and paying the fare and had taken it out to get a number from it, and the driver behind was getting impatient because the cab had stopped at the lights , and…….

I knew immediately I was inside the building and went to check which floor I was supposed to be going to for the meeting. It was one of those moments….

That frantic patting of pockets and rummaging through folder, knowing that it wasn’t there but in the faint hope that maybe I was actually smart enough not to have left it sitting on the seat.

What was the cab I was in?? What company was it?? Rang the cab company and said I was just dropped at … and had left my PDA on the seat, and… no I don’t know the cab number, the drivers name?? …are you kidding me, he didn’t know which street we were on… drivers ID…. Just forget it!!

Ring the office - get the meeting location and the name – then 90 minutes later stop to work out what to do. My life in a bloody piece of plastic and buttons. 3000 contacts over several years of contracting, the sort of resource you can go to to get that name, meeting detail, tax file number, birthdates, the account numbers I can never remember……. my life in my pocket.

Forget the cost of replacing the hardware – that’s enough of a pain – insurance…. “no I wasn’t in the house at the time, yes of course I wasn’t aware that I had left it on the seat until the cab had gone; drivers ID….. ohhh just forget it!!”

Surely I’m not the only one this has happened to. The truth is this is the third time. One PDA and one PDA/phone [a bloody poor excuse for both, but that’s another story….]

So then I have to start again. Not just the contact details [most of that I have synched on the PC], but not all, not just the diary [most of that I had synched on the PC – although not all the old meetings] but it’s a time consuming process to work out what I didn’t have and what I did have….. etc.

The greater concern is what happened to all of my information. I know, I should have had a password on it but I used to have a password on it and it was such a pain in the arse to have to unlock all the time and … anyway. Someone gets in the cab and says, look what the last guy left here, driver you better hang onto it cause they’ll ring for it when they notice it missing…an hour later and someone in a local pub is $50 lighter and has their grubby paws on my life.

So it got me to thinking, what is my privacy worth?? To me. What would I have paid to get my PDA back, more to the point what would I pay to have someone else not have it. My information has a value doesn’t it? I even saw where someone came up with a calculator for it and I think they undersold it.[Check out the calculator here]

I wonder who knows what about me and how many more lists, and databases, am I on. Someone is paying good money to get hold of it. I keep getting emails and phone calls from people I have never heard of [don’t we all!!].

Enough’s enough.

And I still want my PDA back… I don’t want to go through that again. Just send it to me if you find it.