AccountabilitySecurityTechnology
October 7, 2019

Who are the People Buying Your Digital Data?

What’s for sale? Who’s buying? And what can you do about it?

For a few years now, there’s been a throwaway metaphor bounced around various industries and publications; “Data is the new oil”. In reality, the metaphor doesn’t quite work; oil’s tangible asset that’s traded openly between bespoke-suit clad city-types – you could even link your savings to its value if you tried.

Ironically, oil is clean – and while the companies that are built on your data may well trade on the TSX, it can be argued that the buying and selling of your individual data is anything but.

Debate rages on about whether or not the world is ready for the avalanche of data that’s being collected by companies and governments each day – but, regulated or otherwise, clean or murky, data is swapping hands for enormous amounts of money. Chances are, some of your information’s in there too.

What are data brokers?

The term ‘data broker’ sounds above board – and, generally, they’re operating within the law. In fact, there are data brokers operating for some of the biggest software and tech companies in the world – Datalogix for instance.

Companies like this create files on individuals based on behaviour that’s seen through other companies, social media, internet service providers, banks, and so on. The number of people who access the internet using privacy browsers compared to those who use mainstream browsers is tiny – so there’s plenty of information out there to gather. These files are then used to help other companies fine-tune their marketing – targeting you based on age, income, geographical location, ethnicity, and a significant number of other characteristics. In soft terms, this part of marketing is about ‘knowing your audience’.

Is this kind of data sharing dangerous? Well, it depends on your viewpoint. The companies buying these data aren’t going to steal your identity and take out a credit card – but they do find themselves with the ability to target you based on what they know about you. You don’t get to opt-out of the marketing just because you’ve run into bad credit – that’s not how marketing works. In fact, the whole idea behind marketing is to find the people who’ll part with their money – regardless of whether or not that’s what’s best for you.

Of course, this kind of data-use happens behind closed doors. Industry secrets that are intended to give companies the competitive edge. Not all redistribution of data is quite so protected though.

There’s another type of data broker; the services and sites that let you punch in a few details about an individual before selling you more. Want to know someone’s name and address history? Their political affiliations? Details about their relatives? The services are out there – and they’ll sell access to your information to anyone who’s willing to part with the money.

As if having your data available to companies and individuals wasn’t daunting enough, there’s an even darker side of data collection and sale – that done by cyber-criminals. From phishing scams and identity theft, to the targeting of young or otherwise vulnerable individuals, personal details are worth a tremendous amount of money to people who’ll look to exploit you with it.

So, all things considered, the term ‘data broker’ isn’t really that helpful. What is helpful is understanding the intent behind the marketplace – and, generally, that intent is based on targeting you – for better or for worse.

Should you care about your data being out there?

For most people, having some portion of your personal data out in the world feels inconsequential. Society is changing – and governments are having to adapt their approaches to influence this change. By now, we’ve probably all realised that the large social media companies probably know what we’re going to eat for breakfast before we do – the trouble is, benevolent and malevolent data collection go hand-in-hand.

Realistically, is it a problem if a credit referencing facility knows you’re holidaying in Europe? What does it matter if there’s a record of who provides your gas and electricity on a server somewhere? The thing is, in the wrong hands, this data will build a bigger picture of you and your life. These are just examples – but they’re things that a criminal could use if they wanted to do a convincing job of imitating you.

So, should you care? The answer is a very definite yes – when your data is ‘out there’ you might never reel it back in – and you’re potentially at the mercy of people with sinister intentions. It might feel impossible to live your life away from an internet connection – but that doesn’t mean we have to openly broadcast everything we do, every location we visit, or every website we frequent.

How to keep your data private

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security notes that “Cybercrime is the most common threat that Canadians and Canadian organizations are likely to encounter.” So, in the absence of sweeping international regulation change, the onus falls on each one of us to make sure we’re being safe – especially as we do business online.

There’s an element of behavioural change that can help to make sure we’re safe. Using different usernames and password combinations is a good first step – as is using good virus detection software and keeping your operating system and software up to date.

The thing is though, this often isn’t enough. We’ve become reliant on technology that often doesn’t keep pace with the most sophisticated criminals. Increasingly, we need to look toward using VPNs and secure browsers to make sure we’re ahead of the crowd.

Sadly, this ‘ahead of the crowd’ mindset is where we need to be with data security. If you’re running away from a lion, you don’t have to be fast – you just have to be faster than the person next to you. The same is true of cybercrime: Unless you’re particularly high-profile or wealthy, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be targeted specifically – since the most attractive prospects are those who are lacklustre with their data.

Data might not quite have the market flexibility of oil yet, but to those who operate in the shadows, you might argue that it’s even more valuable.

About this author

Avatar

Howard Dawson

Howard is a tech writer at Strictly Digital.

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Accountability
 
For a few years now, there’s been a throwaway metaphor bounced...
 
The Chief Information Officer hoisted a thick binder up to eye...
 
What’s your organisation’s mission? Hopefully, you know what it does on...
 
OTTAWA, July 31 – CPA Canada, (Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada) announced their Public Sector Conference ,...
 
We live in the age of paradox.  Never before in human...
 
Despite a rapid expansion in digital democracy initiatives around the globe,...
 
On October 22, 2018, elections were held in Ontario’s 400+ municipalities....
 
What are the key initiatives to support government innovation and change?...
 
Buying Social. Responsible sourcing. Ethical procurement. Sustainable procurement. Whatever name you...
 
In this episode, Lori Turnbull discusses the positive side of disruption,...
 
The Annual Financial Report of the Government of Canada Fiscal Year...
 
According to a 2018 study led by Dr. Michael McGuire, Senior...
 
Imagine your favorite world class service provider replacing the Board of...
 
When Mark Zuckerberg checked out of Harvard for California’s Silicon Valley,...
 
In his article, Gaming the System, How the misuse of data impedes...
 
My observation is people often take the view, “no one else...
 
The recent 2018 Senate Report examining the Government of Canada’s Phoenix...
 
Human services agencies play a vital role in society, providing a...
 
Tornado warnings broadcast a few weeks ago in Eastern Ontario and...
 
Canada’s international reputation for welcoming and integrating newcomers is unparalleled. At...
 
A few years back, consultants with ghSMART told us the biggest...
 
On today’s show, J. Richard Jones sits down for a chat...
 
Procurement modernization has been a Government of Canada (GC) policy priority...
 
It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and just moments...
 
Over the past two decades, codes of ethical conduct have become...
 
Earlier this year the Canadian government took a crucial step by...
 
On the global scene, technology has revolutionized and automated the work...
 
Over the past decade, major Canadian procurement projects have encountered increasing...
 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, on many occasions, expressed his commitment...
 
In this episode, CGE radio show host J. Richard Jones speaks...
 
There is growing pressure on governments around the world to be...
 
Public servants are responsible for providing advice and support to the...
 
Today, the challenges facing governments are increasingly shifting away from traditional,...
 
Management in the Government of Canada is continuously searching for new...
 
Rankings of public sector entities has been big trend for quite...
 
Canadian Government Executive media through its upcoming TechGov event is providing the...
 
Ships docked in a harbour may not be going anywhere; however,...
 
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in issuing its annual review of...
 
There’s no shortage of organizations claiming to have a digital transformation...
 
Cybersecurity professionals have sounded the alarm for years, and they are...
 
Cost estimation is becoming an extremely important skill within government due...
 
In this special episode of CGE Radio, your host John Jones...
 
Security professionals have an obligation to communicate risks and recommendations to...
 
Risk is always present in any undertaking, no matter the size...
 
Cost overruns have become institutionalized in the federal government, according to...
 
Last year, procurement Minister Jody Foote was prompted by the swirling...
 
Professionals, managers, and executives in the cost estimation industry can gain...
 
In this episode, hear from Carl Hammersburg, Manager, Government and Healthcare...
 
A new study from the Conference Board of Canada gives our...
 
In the world that we are living in today, free and...
 
The delivery method developed by Sir Michael Barber, chief adviser to...
 
Rules and accountability are helpful in developing and standardizing processes but...
 
Canadian doctors were told that climate change impacts human health and...
 
Even as talks between the government and federal workers affected problems...
 
The largest effort in 20 years to seek public input on...
 
Ottawa has overhauled the process by which justices are picked for...
 
July 27 was pay day some federal public workers that finally...
 
The Senate committee looking into Canada’s Syrian refugee program wants the...
 
In this episode, editor-in-chief, Patrice Dutil talks about the need for...
 
Yes, according to the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence...
 
As much a 20 per cent of grade seven students in...
 
A Quebec superior court judge facing allegations that he helped commit...
 
In a move meant to the strengthen liability and compensation regime...
 
We often read news articles about rampant drug addiction and suicide...
 
Upon receiving numerous complaints regarding add-on fees that turn making economy...
 
Are you absolutely clear what the government wants to achieve? Are...
 
Veterans Affairs Canada is not adequately managing the drug component of...
 
Whether responding to emergencies back home or assisting regular troops abroad,...
 
Some public servants will have to request their departments for emergency...
 
A landmark Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for some...
 
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) yesterday heard from several...
 
At least one prime minister has resigned, another in under fire,...
 
It appears it was not just the Mounties that were affected...
 
A while back there have been numerous media reports about the...
 
Performance auditing can lead to more efficient, effective, and economical program...
 
Written By Jason McNaught The Public Service Alliance of Canada was...
 
Independence has long been regarded as a cornerstone of the auditing...
 
Canada is a diverse nation, in language, culture, geography, and, ultimately,...
 
Public sector organizations are under increasing pressure to identify all risks...
 
The government of Canada has implemented several measures over the past...
 
Whether at the territorial, provincial or federal government level, internal audit...
 
An organization’s reputation can take years to build but it can...
 
On October 30, Ontario began second reading of the Public Sector...
 
In the well-known children’s story, an Emperor falls victim to the...
 
The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is a small operation...
 
I think the ombudsman needs to be independent, because without independence...
 
Today’s business environment changes rapidly to adjust to evolving conditions and...
 
The best internal auditors actually are really good managers first. I...
 
The recent controversy about the actions of some staff members in...
 
Most professionals don’t need more than a sentence at a cocktail...
 
Recent research by the Institute of Internal Auditors Canada aims to...
 
When is it that a politician becomes part of the governing...
 
It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the information, privacy...
 
In 1996, a new budget watchdog, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, was...
 
The Ontario government is moving forward with the creation of a...
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC)...
 
After the Auditor General’s (AG) report was released on April 30,...
 
In the U.K. system, Permanent Secretaries are what we call Deputy...
 
We are living in a period of rapid change and limited...
 
US public sector employees don’t trust their management to do the...
 
The news of Mark Carney’s nomination as the new Governor of...
 
Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, the controversial leadership of Lee Kuan...
 
Over the past few years, the preparation and delivery of the...
 
In healthcare, cost-cutting can result in cutting what is valued most...
 
For over 20 years Colin Bennett has been exploring issues of...
 
Even before controversy shook the organization to its foundation, Ornge was...
 
It will be the largest international multi-sport event ever held on...
 
We’ve all seen the headlines – BC Ferries, Ornge, la Caisse...
 
It can happen, and it’s noteworthy when it does. Government, business...
 
Kevin Page’s mandate as the first Parliamentary Budget Officer comes to...
 
Governments are challenged to meaningfully mitigate the effects of the financial...
 
Canada is facing a huge financial challenge brought on by massive...
 
For the past one hundred years, democratic states have been moving...
 
It’s so much easier and less painful to learn from the...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.2 February 2007 Canada’s Performance 2006 is the sixth...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.1 January 2008 The furor over the $300,000 that...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.7 September 2007 "If the Public Service, as a...
 
When pondering leadership, we immediately think of exercising our influence downward...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 "How can I be held accountable...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 Let’s say you’re a senior manager,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 Perhaps it’s a legacy of the...
 
Last fall, Alberta’s Employment and Immigration department posted online the workplace...
 
As the global economy struggles to regain some forward momentum, Canadian...
 
This will be a defining budget for Stephen Harper. It will...
 
It is difficult to determine when the debate about the need...
 
For the next few years, the federal government’s overarching agenda will...
 
Much of the current conversation about the federal government’s economic agenda...
 
In 2006 the world was feeling the aftershocks of a number...
 
The Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grants and Contributions called for...
 
Au Canada, le secteur bénévole et à but non lucratif vit...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.4 April 2007 Robert Parkins, editorial director, met recently...
 
Bill Greenlaw is the elected president of the Institute for Public...
 
In the past two decades, the nature of the state has...
 
Have you ever asked yourself the question: ‘How would I evaluate...
 
In recent months, the attention of Canadians has been focused on...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
For a few years now, there’s been a throwaway metaphor bounced...