The Intentional Privacy Gap

On one of my past articles, I mentioned that Radio Shack is closed, due to Bankruptcy, Did you know that Radio Shack has asked the bankruptcy court to approve a second sale of company assets, including its customer databases, 67 million people are included in the database. Texas is leading a push from 25 states to ban or restrict the sale of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The judge had previously appointed a privacy ombudsman, whom Radio Shack had said it will continue working with.

This is a window into the enormous gap between how companies treat customer data, and how you think they treat your data.

When a store asks you for your personal information, whether it is for a single purchase, or a corporate discount card, that information gets packaged up into a database and tracked. If you buy from a national chain, the company can track your purchases across the country if it chooses- and thereby determine, for example, that you tend to visit Tucson over Christmas, most likely live in San Francisco, but take a trip to Kentucky every 4th of July. If that trip to Kentucky coincides with the purchase of some over-the-counter antihistamines, then your national drug chain now knows you suffer from the kinds of hay fever common in the Midwest, but less prevalent on the West Coast.

Does Walmart, Target, or Radio Shack care about what you buy as such? No. The computer programs that scan and correlate this information don’t objectively care if you are buying whiskey or candy. They aren’t designed to make moral judgements.

What they CAN do is monitor buying patterns, match them against predefined categories, and make predictions about the kinds of products you’re likely to buy in the future. Emailed and Snail mailed ads can be tailored to match your preferences. Most of my clients and fellow consumers aren’t aware that by swiping a discount card, they are agreeing to be tracked in such a manner, but some certainly are. Even in such cases, would you be okay with the fact that Radio Shack and other companies can sell this information to the highest bidder at auction?

The company that buys the database won’t be bound by any particular agreement on what to do with it, unless the states opposed to the sale are able to require such a condition. So of all the Store cards you own, like Best Buy, Shell Gas, Target, and such, all that data can be sold to any other company. That data in turn can be used to target you for ads, including email that has been matched to your preferences by none other than-you. So when you get a spam email, it just might be a result of a prediction made by a PC that was tracking your purchases from that discount card you signed up for.

Thanks for reading, and keep your PC secure and your family safer.  Remember at Hunt Technology, you always get Quality Service & Individual Attention you deserve.

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