Watch it Now: Big Brother, Big Business

On rare occasions, the media both gets something right and comprehends its importance. One such example is the CNBC special called “Big Brother, Big Business” hosted by David Faber. I cannot recommend this two-hour program highly enough (the link above takes you to the video available online). I follow this stuff, and I was amazed at both the pervasiveness and lack of accountability there is.

As you can tell from the title, there is big money in snooping. Much of it is done online, made easier by the increasingly connected world we live in, but some of it unites with real-world surveillance in some surprising ways.

Businesses love keeping information about you so they can find new ways to market to you. Fair enough. But should we, as a society, place some limits on this activity? With information storage costs tending towards zero (think about that for a moment), there is no limit to the data Target or JC Penney could gather on you. But because of a lack of regulation in this country, you have no idea if that information is being sold to a third-party, or even if it’s accurate.

Third-party access to collected data is a major problem; whether it’s employees of a utility spying on you, or identity thieves gaining access to your account information via psychological means called pre-texting (contriving a plausible scenario to get a person’s account information when speaking to a customer service rep whose head is someplace other than his shoulders). Companies should have a data retention policy that outlines what is gathered, how it’s used, who has or will have access to it, and when it will be purged when it’s no longer needed. Few do.

Now that you can imagine the treasure trove of trillions of bytes of information about everybody’s purchasing habits, Internet use, and personal information (like so many oblivious twenty-somethings belching out their personal info on social networking sites), who above all would want to get their dirty hands on it? Increasingly, the biggest third-party user of this data isn’t identity thieves or retailers – it’s the federal government. They use this information because in large part they are prevented from gathering it themselves.

If you take one suggestion this year from us, watch this special. Please.

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