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The Big Business Of Big Data Collection

The NSA and the phone companies aren’t the only ones vacuuming up your data. Who is? And should you be worried?

With guest host Dina Temple-Raston.

This Screen grab from the website WhiteHouse.gov taken Friday April 18, 2014 shows the screen explaining a new Obama administration privacy policy released Friday explaining how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites, and it clarifies that online comments, whether tirades or tributes, are in the open domain. (AP)

This Screen grab from the website WhiteHouse.gov taken Friday April 18, 2014 shows the screen explaining a new Obama administration privacy policy released Friday explaining how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites, and it clarifies that online comments, whether tirades or tributes, are in the open domain. (AP)

Big Data and intelligence.  That’s not just an NSA issue. Private companies have been quietly storing your personal information too. And it isn’t just what you are searching for on the Web or what you buy. There are operations trolling Twitter for your product preferences. Others capturing your license number .  A White House report warns about private data collection run amok. And officials are calling for new regulations to govern how private companies use your data.  This hour On Point: Who’s vacuuming up your data, and why.


David Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times. (@SangerNYT)

Bruce Schneier, cyrptographer and computer security expert. Blogs at Schneier on Security. Author of “Carry On: Sound Advice From Schneier on Security.” (@schneierblog)

Kennieth Cukier, data editor for The Economist. Co-author, with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, of “Learning with Big Data: the Future of Education” and “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.” (@kncukier)

Todd Hodnett, founder and chairman of the Digital Recognition Network.

From The Reading List

New York Times: In Surveillance Debate, White House Turns Its Focus to Silicon Valley — “At their core, the questions about the N.S.A. are strikingly similar to those about how Google, Yahoo, Facebook and thousands of application makers crunch their numbers. The difference is over the question of how far the government will go to restrain the growth of its own post-Sept. 11 abilities, and whether it will decide the time has come to intrude on what private industry collects, in the name of protecting privacy or preventing new forms of discrimination.”

Los Angeles Times: Ownership of personal data still appears up for grabs — “While the report addresses the ease with which people’s information can be collected, crunched and put to use, it fails to adequately convey the sense of violation that comes with businesses and government officials knowing your habits, behavior and activities. Privacy advocates welcomed the administration’s attention to these issues but said the report didn’t go far enough in keeping people’s personal data under wraps.”

Washington Post: White House releases big data and privacy report — “Two years ago, the president called for a consumer data ‘bill of rights,’ that would protect consumers when companies collected data about their activities. But the subsequent release of classified information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden complicated that effort, which never gained traction on Capitol Hill. In Thursday’s report, the panel recommended that the bill of rights proposal be revived and advanced.”

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  • Ray in VT
  • Matt MC

    I think we need a Bill of Rights for consumers and our data. We should have the ability to opt in or out of any aspect of technology that has to do with sharing our data. Read the fine print of your Facebook Terms of Service. Not only do they collect your data, you fork over the right for them to post “on your behalf” on friends’ Facebook pages. We need to take the power back!

    • Ray in VT

      I think that a lot could be done if users would demand it, but I think that relatively few users are fully aware of these things, and many may not care.

    • Coastghost

      Power can also be asserted effectively with consumers abandoning their Facebook accounts (et cetera) en masse.

      • TFRX

        Yep. Then wait for the one social networking site who’s marketing themselves as the one who won’t mine and sell your data to a faretheewell.

        Go on, hold your breath while that happens.

        • Coastghost

          “Social networking” is little more functionally than an invitation to set yourself up to have your data examined by marketers. The novelty of “networking socially” (that is, of being a social human being in a bodiless environment) is the ruse that brings in uncritical tech enthusiasts.

          • TFRX

            I’m tired of getting that call from my proverbial great aunt about restricting some of her Facebook options.

            People leaving (any one) networking site isn’t going to fix it.

            If you can’t figure out that there’s a data hole here which Silicon Valley isn’t going to fix itself, begone with you.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Computer spies can feel free to drop a 0% interest loan into my banking accounts anytime they want. Term: 30 years should do it. Since you’re already into my computer, you know the banks/account numbers.

    Foreign enemies can drop bribes into them: and take US secrets from my email accounts. Here’s a sample on spec: the population of the USA has more than doubled since 1955. Thanks much. Agent Freeloader

  • TFRX

    “Should Washington…just get out of the way (of the idea of putting rules on commercial orgs mining my data)?”

    Silicon Valley is not my friend for this. The Rule of Law and the ensuing force of law are the only weapons I have.

    Can’t our NPR host have brushed up on the history of “Opt out” v. “Opt in” before this hour?

  • richard

    Why isn’t opt-in the standard common law and statutory embodiment for anyone to collect data on individuals ? Likewise for telephone advertising to residential telephones and cell telephones.

  • reality bites

    I tend to think of ‘privacy’ in the past tense.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Pandora’s Box is opened.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Excellent question Joseph!

  • Matt MC

    I love the license plate guy, “Well, I’m not a data broker…” Uh, what exactly does collecting data, then selling it mean? It’s wonderful that people in the business of data collection don’t have a second thought about ethical questions.

  • AC

    lic plates aren’t perm anyway, are they?

  • J__o__h__n

    The distinction that the license plate is coded is irrelevant as the government has the codes. There would be an uproar if the police were directly recording the movements of all cars. Having a private sector middleman profiting from this information doesn’t address the privacy concerns.

  • Dab200

    1. I called a friend of mine in Greece for her birthday – within 15 minutes I was getting offers for holidays in Greece
    2. I made a joke about ‘my ashes being thrown over the Aegean sea’ to a friend on Facebook and within 5 minutes I started to receive emails about cremation services
    and I have so many more of these examples. it’s scary, creepy, it’s wrong, it should be illegal. With the phone conversation what it means is that either someone at the NSA has become creative entrepreneur and sells the data or Verizon is selling my phone logs – either are very wrong!

  • J__o__h__n

    At least with Google and Facebook, the user has decided to exchange privacy to some extent for their services. What benefit is the license plate snoop providing to the individual?

  • Coastghost

    Exactly how coy are “On Point”, WBUR, and NPR being: data collection being not merely driven by commercial interests, exactly what data do public broadcasters collect, store, distribute (and to whom)? What analytics do public broadcasters apply to the full range of data their numerous venues collect from the public?

    • peoplepower

      every time you donate to NPR, they collect all the private information wanted by other companies. Does NPR use this info to target us individually? Does NPR sell this info?

  • AC

    this is a good argument to keep obamacare – you can’t be denied coverage!!

    • mitspanner

      The problem with Obama care though is that it props up the medical industrial complex with $100,000 heart surgeries which would cost $10,000 if market forces were brought to bear.

      • mitspanner

        Obama is owned by special interests just like the presidents that came before him. It should be no surprise then that the healthcare law he signed is a boon for special-interests and a bust for ordinary folks.

  • mitspanner

    The real problem for privacy is the social security number. It’s your government ID number that was never supposed to be used for ID purposes. Now it’s required to open a bank account, to get a drivers license, to register a car, to get a fishing license, to open a utility account, etc., etc. I could protect my privacy pretty well if I wasn’t forced to bear this “Mark of the Beast”.

    • brettearle

      “Mark of the Beast”?

      You wouldn’t be stepping into one of `them, there’ New World Order conspiracies, would you–extrapolated, supposedly, from “Revelations”; and perpetuated by such Propaganda outlets, as “Coast to Coast”?

  • homebuilding

    Can’t anyone else see how easily (any) governmental power could so easily over-step bounds for nefarious intent? (I used that word so they’ll believe I graduated from HS) Is any government beyond 1930s Germany capable of overstepping former socially agreed to legal restrictions? Next question

    Whilst (includes so they’ll think I’ve visited the UK or Australia–or at least enjoy Downton Abbey)

    This entire business is clearly a fascistpicnic! and the coastals have such blind faith in public statements of law enforcement and politicians–that’s the truly amazing thing about all this

    –cover the bottom flag on any E in your license plate or make the B into an E or F; make the T an I–and never wash it (the find is WAY less than any moving violation–blame neighborhood vandals and ask for better police protection!)
    –use different ages, races, addresses, and zip codes on anywhere it’s asked (say, weren’t you born in the Canal Zone, just like me….oh, and John McCain)
    –use maps and only use handheld gps (your vehicle GPS and your OBDII port record knows all–how did you think that onstar lady knew where you were and where you stopped for breakfast?)
    –remember, your guns don’t keep you safe unless all of your transactions are secret and in cash….that means no subscription to Field and Stream No clay pigeons at the Farm Store, for you …..also any books, readings, purchases pertaining to ‘survivalist’ pursuits (even a pocket knife, I’d guess)
    –don’t give your doctor and others anything pertaining to your SS # and alter date and yr of your birthday (What? You were expecting a birthday card?)
    –Slip in something about your death–the sooner the better (to make it real and totally believable–register with a couple of morticians )

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Yes, certainly. But private companies are already actually doing it.

      • homebuilding

        True enough, Neil. I love baseball and it’s useful to mix in a few sliders, curves, knuckleballs, and altered birth/death dates, too.

        If everyone would do this, the data would be dramatically less desirable.

  • notafeminista

    Y’know – Kareem Abdul Jabbar made an interesting statement comment during this Donald Sterling kerfuffle. He does not excuse Mr. Sterling’s statements but also points out that no one is appalled by the fact that a private conversation was recorded and then released without his consent to the media.

    The line about gorging ourselves on the cake is especially good.


    • brettearle

      Despite what a sleaze ball Donald Sterling is, or isn’t, it is possible that the Clippers owner’s constitutional rights may have been violated.

      I am especially dubious about whether the NBA Commissioner ran his strategy–of banning Sterling for life, based on private recordings–by attorneys who were privacy law specialists.

      There are varying reports about Sterling’s consent to have the conversations taped.

      One wonders why any individual would divulge such offensive views, privately, during such a conversation, knowing that there is evidence of extremely self-incriminating views in the exchanges.

      And, if Sterling gave consent and Sterling went ahead and made such controversial remarks, then one wonders whether he is, indeed, cognitively impaired, due to age.

      Who, in their proper mind, would do such a thing? Especially since his companion, to whom he was speaking, is apparently all, or part, African-American.

      To me, something about this entire story doesn’t add up.

      But I am NOT suggesting that Sterling isn’t a Racist.

      • LastDinosaur

        Constitutional rights aren’t implicated when private parties – as opposed to government agents – record conversations without consent.

        • brettearle

          Oh, yes they are.

          Cite your source, please.

          And, if you’re planning to make your source, the Constitution, which article and which line…

          • LastDinosaur

            In the 1833 case Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights restricted only the powers of the federal government and not those of state governments. Beginning in 1925, the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings which interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to “incorporate” most
            portions of the Bill of Rights, making these portions enforceable against the state governments.holding that the Fourteenth Amendment made applying various provisions of the Bill of Rights he Bill of Rights was held only to apply to the federal government.

  • peoplepower

    Whether the information is bought from private companies or collected by government agencies, government will use this information when it needs it. I remember a case of a child in the 60′s that used a fictitious name when signing up for a free ice cream contest from the ice cream truck that frequented their town. Soon after turning 18 he received a draft notice under that false name, and had to go to court to defend himself from the draft. Look it up, it was in the news then. This information has the potential to be be used against the citizen in ways we fail to imagine at this time. It this information is so venal, why don’t we put the public lives of all our political leaders and the corporate CEOs online for everyone to see? If they object to this, are they involved in some embarrassing activity, or worse yet criminal activities? Not necessarily, but that is the argument some use to stop the argument of the citizens opposed to all this info gathering.

    Bring back the 4th amendment.
    I still want all the politicians, and all the corporate CEOs private information made public before my information is used to make someone else a large profit. My private life is my private property. If our leaders walk the walk, I will follow.

    • brettearle

      One of the problems, I think, is that many people in the country do not want to face the fact that we are living–right now–in an Orwellian Culture.

      Or, many are aware of it, and they don’t know what to do about it.

      In one way or another, almost all of us are in one, or the other, category.

  • ExcellentNews

    Get over it, peons. Corporations are people, you are NOT !

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