Why do private companies store and share information?
Consumer data, including name, marital status, number of children, address, search engine history and purchasing history can create an in-depth picture of customers for companies. The information can be used for marketing and consumer tracking purposes.
What information does a company know about me?
This information varies based on company and the information you personally disclose on the Internet. Generally, information derived from a search history, survey, or purchasing history can tell a company what movies you have downloaded, your political affiliation, credit information, the websites you visit, and even what kind of pizza you have ordered!
Do private companies turn over information to the government?
Yes. Private companies are routinely tapped by government agencies for records. Cell phone records and other information stored in a digital device can be collected by a subpoena or request letter.
Do consumer privacy laws protect me?
While some privacy law considerations exist to protect consumers, they are notably behind technological innovations. Because of the lack of regulation, telecommunications companies can exploit consumers by sharing or selling private information to other companies and the government.
Do companies profit from tracking consumers?
In certain cases, companies do profit from tracking online activity of consumers, including purchase and search history. While some companies and organizations pay hefty sums for this information, other businesses make a profit exclusively from consumer tracking, even when it is violation of consumers’ expectation of privacy.
Does the ECPA protect my rights as a consumer?
While the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is directed at safeguarding electronic records, it does not have specific control over what you share with companies. In fact, the government can track your location, emails, and social networking without a warrant by tapping into private company records.
What are cookies?
Cookies are encoded text files that help your browser navigate a website. The cookie is a file generated by the site you are browsing and is processed by your computer software. The cookie file is then stored in your browser’s folder or subfolder. Your browser can then access the cookie file to navigate the same website, filling in information automatically.
Are cookies dangerous?
Generally, cookies are harmless; however they can be used to track your browsing history. Cookies files can also be used to access prior search history.
Yes, it is possible to change your browser settings to cut down on the ability to record your browsing and search history. When you use a public computer, you should always make sure to clear your cookies after you finish your work in order to prevent storage of your personal information.
Can the government access my records as a consumer?
Yes, the government is increasingly tapping third parties for consumer information. This is especially true of cell phone carriers. The government can access "basic subscriber information," with a subpoena, including your name, address, duration you have had phone, phone records, including numbers you have dialed or received, length of call, and information on how you pay your bill.
Does the government have to provide notice before accessing this information?
No, the information is accessible by subpoena and the government does not have to tell you or anyone else that it is accessing that information. The government can also obtain a court order forcing your service provider not to disclose certain tracking information.
Can I stop a cell phone carrier or other company from sharing information?
Once the information is stored, it can be shared. Until new laws are enacted to protect consumer rights, this information can be shared with other companies and with government agencies. Always be aware of privacy policies before sharing your personal information.
How do I protect information and private email or text exchanges?
Your cell phone carrier will have a record of your calls, when they were made and who you were calling. Your provider will have a record of your sent and stored emails. Your cell phone provider keeps a record of your text messages. Google tracks your search history. Be aware of the risks before you hit "search" or "send." Encryption or anonymous communication tools if you want to search without being identified.