NPR has the first of a four-part series about privacy:
Is privacy still possible? For a lot of people, the answer is no, as companies collect personal data in ever-increasing volumes. […]
What’s changed is the speed with which information flows into databases like these. It used to come from sources such as magazine subscriptions and warranty cards. Now it’s flowing from online sources — thousands of them — everything from gambling Web sites to dating services.
NextMark CEO Joe Pych says this information comes from us.
“I guess pretty much anyplace you put your name, address, phone number, e-mail address — those are all potential sources of mailing lists,” Pych says.
Even medical data. Federal law prohibits doctors and hospitals from selling health records, but if people voluntarily answer questions on an online health survey, that information is fair game.
The law doesn’t restrict what kind of information companies may ask for, and the data industry says more regulations aren’t necessary. Industry officials say reputable companies are careful with the information. Companies going through NextMark will “rent” their data through trusted third parties to prevent uncontrolled copying of their lists. […]
As the head of the privacy programs at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, [Chris Hoofnagle has] been tracking the information economy for some time, and he says it’s getting harder to make informed decisions. “As there’s been growing awareness of how commercial data brokers operate, they’ve become more secretive,” Hoofnagle says. He says big data brokers are telling the public less about the provenance of their data — where they’re getting their information.