If you think privacy only matters to people involved in wrongdoing, you’re not alone. In today’s day and age, however, privacy problems affect all of us, and it’s worth your time to make sure you’re taking care of your information.
Privacy is about safety and security
It’s never been easier or more common for companies to collect a lot of information about you for no good reason.
Almost every company we interact with collects some data about us, from our favorite apps to our banks. Sometimes it’s information the company needs to provide you with its service – it makes sense the pizza delivery guy has your address.
Often, however, companies gather a lot more information about you than they really need, and use it for purposes that have nothing to do with what you’re paying them for. That pizza company may very well be selling your name, address, email and phone number to lots of other entities.
These practices cause real harm.
When companies collect and sell data about you, they increase the odds your information will be exposed in a breach or a hack, making you more likely to fall victim to identity theft.
Identity theft is a huge problem in the United States, with more than 1.1 million cases reported last year, according to the FTC. Dealing with identity theft is a time consuming and annoying process that no one wants to go through.
When companies collect our data and sell it to whomever is looking to buy, it means your data or that of your loved ones could end up in the hands of scammers looking to identify ideal victims. Scammers buy information about people’s ages, web browsing history, or health info in order to target people with cognitive difficulties like dementia who are more likely to fall for scams.
Sometimes scammers use information about you and your family to craft highly-targeted scam messages – like sending a fake text from your aunt asking for money help in a way that might sound pretty real.
When your data is out in the world, it’s more likely to end up on call center lists, meaning more calls contacting you about your car’s extended warranty, or robotexts that crowd your phone.
Advertisements that don’t have your best interest at heart
A lot of data ends up with advertisers who can place harmful ads. For example, advertisers can buy your credit card transaction data and see if you go to liquor stores or fast food restaurants a lot. They can also see if suddenly you stop. There’s a huge market for data about “relapsed shoppers” because companies think people who have just changed a habit are easy targets to lure back with some well-timed ads for beer, booze and fast food. Of course advertisers don’t have any regard for the fact that maybe you’re cutting back for good reasons, like your physical or financial health.
In today’s world, privacy matters for all of us. We’re here to help you take care of your information so you can be safer and more secure.
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Director, Don't Sell My Data Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund; Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
R.J. focuses on data privacy issues and the commercialization of personal data in the digital age. Her work ranges from consumer harms like scams and data breaches, to manipulative targeted advertising, to keeping kids safe online. In her work at Frontier Group, she has authored research reports on government transparency, predatory auto lending and consumer debt. Her work has appeared in WIRED magazine, CBS Mornings and USA Today, among other outlets. When she’s not protecting the public interest, she is an avid reader, fiction writer and birder.