Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Bigger Brothers


Some twenty-five years ago, I was a partner is a web design business. Our big pitch was not only would your website represent your store 24/7/365, you could track where in the store people went. We could even tell you how long they looked at each page. It was like virtual footprints in your virtual store.

We had no idea how this idea would catch on. It’s more than Big Data tracking everything on the Internet. They compare every track and know which are yours and which are mine.

They also know who we are, where we live, and where we are right now. But there’s more: they also buy data about us from the other big collectors of our data. Who are these firms? Read on.

Data doesn’t only come from online; it can come from the myriad of forms we fill out. You can rent a car online or over the counter at the rental agency. If you do, there’s a form. Think of all the forms every time you see a doctor or go to a hospital.

The rental agency doesn’t necessarily do business directly with Big Data, neither does the hospital. Or anyone else who has your personal information. No, other companies buy and sell our data.

And you’ve never heard of any of them, e.g., C&C is the largest data collection agency in North America. Whether they do Data Collection, Data Science, Data Mining, Market Research, or Field Intelligence, they’re all Data Brokers (See 60 Minutes).

These companies don’t do business with you. They do business about you, whatever they can monetize. The last thing they want is for you to see what data they have and whom they sell it to.

Before you go screaming to your congressperson, remember these brokers are only middlemen (middlepersons?). Who’s buying this information besides Big Data, e.g., government?

Is it legal? Well, somewhere on that form or the website or the software you’re using there’s some legalese that says it is. Of course, no one ever reads the unreadable legal mumbo-jumbo buried in what we sign (or the EULAs we click on to agree).

So until there’s a big enough law suit to get to the Supreme Court and a decision, we’re stuck with companies vacuuming up all our data and selling it to whomever for whatever purpose.

Who are the Biggest Brothers? Those who collect and broker our data or those who buy it from them? The first keep adding to your profile to keep selling it. The second keep buying it, from many sources. They have enough data to predict your behavior.

The data buyers know where you’re likely to go and what you’re likely to buy—and how much they can get you to spend. They know what you owe and how much you’re willing to owe. What they won’t do is leave you alone. Your data makes them rich.

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