Giving technology a conscience

Bethany J. Royer

March 30, 2014

Bethany J. Royer

Staff Writer


PIQUA — How would one categorize or cluster their current financial health? Would it be, Struggling Elder or Tough Start: Young Single Parent. Maybe Small Town, Shallow Pockets?

According to the study of the data broker industry by the United States Senator Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, these are just a few of the categories used to identify the financial health of the masses. Personal information an aid in determining the right customer for the right product or service, otherwise known as marketing strategy, by data brokers — corporations that collect, store and sell personal information such as age, sex, address, political and religious affiliation, health, browsing history, marital status, children or not, weight, the aforementioned finances and more to determine whether or not an individual is Financial(ly) Challenged or Rural and Barely Making It.

Some data brokers such as Acxiom, a marketing technology corporation with offices around the world, boast of having as many as 1,500 data points of information on 500 million people. They cluster U.S. households into one of 70 segments with titles such as Large Households, Busy Households, even Bargain Hunters. (Want to know your cluster? Visit the link provided at the end of the story.)

Though some data brokers such as Acxiom provide the ability to opt-out of collection, as well as, see and correct information with a $5 processing fee for U.S. consumers, others do not. However, a bill introduced in February to the U.S. Senate may change all that — the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act. An empowerment tool for consumers looking to control their personal information with the ability to request the collected material from any data broker for review at least once a year and correct any mistakes, at no charge, while also being provided an opt-out.

Of course, the issue is much more than finances, considering some data brokers such as Acxiom collect Social Security numbers (See breakout box) for use in fraud detection. Sensitive information that leads to a number of questions, such as should corporations be readily collecting and sharing such data, are there alternatives, and what to do in the meantime against those who provide no opt-out and remain elusive about what data they collect?

Consumers can currently take action by reducing their digital footprint through anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo or utilizing online tools such as Ghostery that lift the curtains on tracers placed on web pages by Facebook, Google Analytics, and thousands of others.

Another option is Sgrouples, an all-in-social network that gives the power of privacy back to the people. Users can create untracked accounts to share one-on-one or with larger groups of their choosing. With the ability to store, share and print photos and collaborate documents without the fine print of those items being usable -even sold by- the interface.

Vowing to never use tracking or cookies to monitor user activity or user data, Sgrouples draws revenue via data storage, user-selected advertising, and applications available in their store. But the bigger question for endusers is why is privacy so important? Why the need for privacy if there’s nothing to hide?

“Privacy is bigger, it’s not about hiding anything,” says privacy advocate Mark Weinstein, CEO and founder of Sgrouples, which includes a first of its kind Privacy Bill of Rights that gives endusers exclusive power over their personal information and content, permissions and privacy rights, along with no snooping into one’s contact list. “It’s not an accident that the founding fathers of America put privacy as a prerequisite for our republic. It’s (privacy) about freedom.”

Weinstein pointed out the dangers of going down the road toward a Communist country where people are inhibited because everything is spied upon and collected, citing concerns over the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act being watered down as data brokers and companies like Facebook and Google have huge influence on the final language of legislation.

Privacy is for law-abiding citizens, says Weinstein, and the government should not know everything about us, with the intelligence community preferring everyone to think they haven’t anything to hide. But is it too late?

No, continued the Sgrouples founder, stating this is only the beginning of the privacy revolution as society begins to wake up and remember why privacy is fundamental to America, to being an American, and to our Constitution. Over the next four to six years, it will be discussed in court, with legislatures, and questions will arise to the violations of the fourth amendment.

“We are going to give technology a conscience,” said Weinstein, adding that it is, “up to human beings to give technology a conscience.”

Stay tuned …

What cluster are you? Visit: https://isapps.acxiom.com/personicx/personicx.aspx

Bethany J. Royer may be reached at (937) 773-2721 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall