From marketers to black marketers, your personal information is a valuable commodity
Everyone wants a piece of you.
From hackers who breach the data of corporate retail giants to social media sites that sell your information, identity is undoubtedly a hot commodity.
The various aspects of an identity hold different value for different people. Social Security numbers and credit card data are going to be highly valuable to someone on the black market, whereas retailers want to analyze your Facebook likes, shopping habits and demographic information. “It generally seems to be whatever you can get out of it,” says Kevin Haley, director of security response for software giant Symantec Corp.
Anyone with a stake in identity shares the same end goal: to make money. The difference is that the black market seeks out private identity information that can help them steal money, whereas retailers aim to boost sales by relying on information that individuals share about themselves.
Social media sites have taken heat for selling users data, with critics calling it a clear invasion of privacy. Analytics consultantscontend there’s a difference between the data that the legitimate world gathers to market products and the personally identifiable information criminals steal for nefarious purposes.
“There’s value to the business of analyzing data from a monetary perspective, but it’s also valuable to the general public because your experience is going to be much more personalized,” says Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, a data analytics-consulting firm.
Big Data, big value
It’s the old Amazon strategy of “If you like this, you’ll like that.” Retailers and their data analytics consultants use that strategy with the goal of making the consumer’s world completely personalized, says Joe Caserta, CEO of New York-based data analytics consulting firm Caserta Concepts.
“When I go online, I want all of the content of every site I look at to be 100% specific to me,” says Caserta. “For companies to be able to do that, they need to know as much information about me as possible.”
That is, however, with the exception of personally identifiable information, which should be encrypted and kept private. Data companies need only the individual’s characteristics and behavior patterns, not the identity.
“They don’t need to know that Joe Caserta is doing this activity. They just need to know that someone with all the characteristics of Joe Caserta is doing this activity,” he explains.
That information might include characteristics about the person – in Caserta’s case, a middle-aged, white male business owner and technologist – and all of the behavior and buying patterns associated with that person through social media and payment card use. Analysts then compile that information to create a consumer profile. “That is incredibly valuable,” Caserta says.
Big Data critics say there’s a Big Brother factor to having some unseen presence monitor which stores and websites you visit and deliver personalized ads moments later.
Caserta contendsthat won’t stop people from receiving the message. He recalls a time when he ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant, and then received an email from a wine merchant the following day advertising a sale on the same bottle of wine. “Creepy? Yes. Effective? Yes, I went and bought it,” he says.
There is always the danger of losing consumers over data collection. Ramirez says that if companies aren’t careful about how they sell data, they can sever a lifetime relationship with a customer.