July 22, 2007 by Colin
I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.
This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.
I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.
To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.
With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.
But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.
What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?
- your birthday
- your home address
- your kid’s names
- your vacation schedule
Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.
Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.
Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.
And you better not lose that keychain.
[tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]