Tuesday, May 27, 2014

FTC Report On Data Brokers Heralds End of Privacy

Everything we've heard about the US government's electronic surveillance of everyone is now irrelevant.  All of those programs, classified or otherwise, are a drop in the bucket compared to the private sector's Big Data collection.  The FTC's May 2014 report on data brokers shows how marketing companies have broken down every living American's personal habits into detailed profiles.  All of this data is available for a price.

I had speculated months ago about how to assign an accounting value to stored data.  Its marketability clearly makes it a tangible asset.  The formalization of data brokerage categories gives us hints as to how much some data categories are worth.  The most valuable data probably has the densest connectivity to other data.  In other words, consumers with extensive credit histories are very lucrative data nodes to track. If you spend a lot on food, clothes, entertainment and travel, your data profile is worth a lot.  The poorest of the poor in rural areas probably aren't worth much at all.  The funniest category in that FTC report has got to be "Rural Everlasting," a euphemism for the country bumpkins who think social media is when you yell over your neighbor's fence.

Forget about laws and regulations prohibiting personal identification links to these data brokers' stacks.  Regulatory capture is a fact of life for every federal agency and the FTC is no different.  Any FTC senior manager skilled in assembling knowledge taxonomies would make a prize recruit for a data brokerage.  There is no way they will implement a regulation that would materially harm a future employer.  It works the same way as SEC attorneys angling for a Wall Street career.  No prosecutions?  No problems.

The FTC has tons of privacy policy guidance for businesses.  They subject personal data to commercial controls provided enterprises take minimalist precautions.  Data is now too important to the economy to keep it completely private.  The highest bids always win.  The winning bid means privacy loses.  The developed world enters the third phase of the Industrial Revolution with the antiquated notion of personal privacy rapidly fading in its rear view mirror.