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There’s a phenomenon I call “digital complacency” that has turned otherwise conscientious, privacy-loving Americans into ostriches with their heads stuck in the technological sand. I’ll assume it’s just out of convenience and ignorance because if people were aware of where their personal data was going, what that data included, and how it was being used, I’m certain a much higher percentage of Americans would be taking much stronger precautions than they are today.
A recent article on Fast Company highlighted the 121 data brokers who are currently collecting and selling your personal information to the highest bidders.
Thanks to a new Vermont law requiring companies that buy and sell third-party personal data to register with the Secretary of State, we’ve been able to assemble a list of 121 data brokers operating in the U.S. It’s a rare, rough glimpse into a bustling economy that operates largely in the shadows, and often with few rules.
Even Vermont’s first-of-its-kind law, which went into effect last month, doesn’t require data brokers to disclose who’s in their databases, what data they collect, or who buys it. Nor does it require brokers to give consumers access to their own data or opt out of data collection. Brokers are, however required to provide some information about their opt-out systems under the law–assuming they provide one.
Before we go any further in this article, there’s something that must be said. It’s better to get it out now before anyone falls off. Surfing with a VPN, as recommended in the Fast Company article, is the easiest way to prevent ISPs and other 1st-party data collectors from building your hidden digital profile. The less information they have on you, the less valuable your data. The less valuable your data, the less likely it is that any of the multitudes of data farms, hackers, and spam companies will find reason to target you. It’s that simple. Our editors use ExpressVPN and highly recommend it.
With that understood, let’s discuss your data. It’s out there. If you’re got to this article through Google, Facebook, Twitter, email, or just about any other source, chances are very strong that multiple companies are aware of it. Don’t worry. It’s not NOQ Report itself that’s giving them this data. Your internet service provider, cellular provider, and most of the services you use to surf the net are collecting your data for the brokers. We do not use any ad services that “target” our visitors. Unfortunately, our stance is a rare one indeed.
Why do we protect our visitors’ data? Because we’re like you. We don’t want companies, hackers, or even governments keeping tabs on where we go and what we do online. But we’re also likely more aware of the gravity of the situation than the vast majority of Americans because we realize as bad as it sounds that you’re being “targeted,” it’s actually worse than you probably imagine.
Data is the currency of the age. Those who have the most data are the ones who call the shots. Think about the “big 5” technology companies. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple are as powerful as they are based on their control and herding of your data and profiles. When most Americans hear the word “profile,” they normally assume that’s their Facebook or other social media profile. Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The level of information you give to these companies through your social media interactions is a drop in the bucket compared to the data they collect through your surfing, emailing, searching, and other online habits. They can use machine learning to classify you in different categories that you had no idea they could do. For example, they can extrapolate based on the sites you visit, the searches you do, and the physical places your phone (and therefore you) go to tell if you’re a good candidate to die from heart disease.
Of course, they don’t say, “Hey, you’re going to die.” They sell the data to pharmaceutical companies who then target you with ads about heart disease, preparing you for the inevitable revelation you’ll have when your doctor tells you it’s so.
Some might think, “Hey, that doesn’t seem so bad. Who wants to die from heart disease?” To those people, I’d first say they need to wake up to the intrusion this represents, but the second thing I’d tell them is even more important. Let’s say the same activities that made you a candidate for pharmaceutical targeting also makes you a likely lover of BBQ ribs. After all, they know you searched for Stan’s Rib Palace twice last week and your phone says you went to a different rob joint last month. Your credit card says you bought rings at Whole Foods on Tuesday and you searched Youtube for smoker tips yesterday. Suddenly, every website you visit (other than NOQ Report) has scrumptious ribs plastered all over them.
They don’t care what you do. They just want to match you with the lifestyle choices they believe will interest you.
You are for sale online. Period.
Unfortunately, that’s just the marketing component. Once we start discussing hackers, the government, and other nefarious actors who are part of the equation, the picture gets much darker.
Now is the time to wake up to the realities of the digital landscape upon which most of us operate daily. At the very least, get a VPN. If possible, take further steps to protect yourself. The more “they” know, the harder it will be to go along unscathed.
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