Where Do We Draw the Limit on Data Collection?

The world today is much different than it was in the 1960s when your privacy was relatively easy to maintain. You could, quite literally, live without giving your address to any third party other than your government and your bank.

Today we are living in a data-driven society where almost everything about you, including things that you might not even tell your own parents, is somewhere out there in a database with or without your knowledge. The problem we face right now is that we do not have a clear line drawn on what “enough” data about an individual is. And on the other hand, data mining has its uses for everyone.

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Data collection is a practice that companies have been using since before they could ever store their media digitally. Cataloging data about your customers in a customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform helps you better understand them, and as a result, also understand what they need. As a company knows more about you, it can offer you things that are more relevant to your particular lifestyle, your passions, and your hobbies. It may sound a bit creepy, but the corporate world has been doing this since long before we’ve had computers. It’s one of the many ways in which they compete for your dollar.

In today’s market, the Internet provides ways for companies like Facebook to collect data about you in order to make its advertising more relevant. The problem with this is, obviously, that people are afraid of their data ending up in the hands of those who could actually cause them harm. In a very expansive amount of cases, the government has a vested interest in gaining access to the data that various companies have. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has repeatedly been caught collecting data on foreign citizens and Americans (as is the case with leaked information from PRISM).

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There are many other threats to the integrity of your privacy that have nothing to do with governments. People, government entities, and private companies are notoriously bad at keeping track of their data and securing it. Case in point: both the IRS and a major health insurance provider were hacked in 2015, providing the hackers with a significant amount of private data from 78 million people. Data collection could go wrong when the ones collecting your data are compromised, and the information provided goes into the hands of those who would try to profit from it.

Taking into consideration the fact that one of the biggest risks to people who use the services of both the public and private sector is the possibility of a data breach, and the fact that data breaches have been increasing consistently both in frequency and intensity, now would be a good time to begin pressuring the companies we use to either catalog less of our data or at least improve their security practices. As for the rest of us who are regular users of online services, we should educate ourselves and be as prudent as possible with the data we provide to any entity on the Internet. The less you share, the safer you are from hackers.

What do you think? Do you have any extra advice? Share it with us in a comment!

2 comments

  1. “Where Do We Draw the Limit on Data Collection?”
    We don’t because we can’t. Data collection has been with us for as long as humans have been able to keep records. By now, data collection has reached a critical mass and has become a self-sustaining chain reaction. Data collection is the most addictive drug in existence today. Even a massive EMP will not stop it because everybody and his uncle has not only backups in EMP-proof storage but also paper records.

    ” now would be a good time to begin pressuring the companies we use to either catalog less of our data”
    NOW is many, many years too late. The genie is out of the bottle and nobody can get him back in. Data/information is the current currency. There is no way to convince corporations to give up a big revenue stream. You might as well try to get Rupert Murdock or Donald Trump to give up their income from newspapers or real estate.

    ” at least improve their security practices”
    The only secure database is one that is not remotely accessible. Unfortunately that defeats the purpose of a database as defined and used today.

    “The less you share, the safer you are from hackers.”
    While that sounds like great advice, it is misleading. When I do a Google search on my name, most of the data found was not provided by me, at least not voluntarily. Every place we go for services, online and the real world, we are forced to provide personal data in order to use those services. The only way to avoid that is to have no Internet connection, own no property of any kind, and barter for goods and services.

  2. “The less you share, the safer you are from hackers.”
    Not to beat a dead horse but not sharing personal data is rather hard to do on the Internet, especially when we wish to take advantage of all that it can offer. I just saw an article “7 Financial Blogs for Women to Take Control of Their Money”. Countless similar “The X best sites/blogs to help you with whatever problem you’re having” articles have been posted online in the past and will be posted in the future. Many require some kind of identification. While the vast majority of the sites/blogs are legitimate, some are set up only to harvest data from unsuspecting victims. Also, there is no way to know for sure how effective the security is on the legitimate sites/blogs.

    Bottom line is that there is impossible to use the Internet without Knowingly and unknowingly leaking personal info.

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