Corporate Data Mining Isn’t Inevitable

A constant refrain during the NSA spying coverage has been that people readily give up their personal information to private entities. While there are many people who gladly do this, a lot of us do this because we don’t have any choice: to engage in the 21st century economy, we are forced to do this. With the rise of ‘take it or leave it’ contractscontracts of adhesion–for things that are difficult to do without, we are forced to give up our information, even as we pay for services.

This state of affairs is implicitly seen as inevitable–corporations should have the right to sell your personal information. Yet, as Adam Gaffin at Universal Hub reports, in Massachusetts there are some consumer privacy laws:

In the latest lawsuit against a retail chain for its use of Zip codes, a woman who used to like shopping at the Gap in Wellesley is suing over mailings she never asked for…

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in March that stores cannot require customers to provide their Zip codes for credit-card purchases, because the numbers are the sort of “personal identification information” protected under a privacy provision of the state’s consumer-protection law. Using what are known as data-mining techniques, chains can match a consumer’s name and Zip code with an address in databases.

Multiple companies have been hit with these suits, and, I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, the number of stores in Massachusetts that request this information has dropped dramatically (I can’t remember the last time I’ve been asked this in Massachusetts). The good news is that the Massachusetts State Supreme Court backs these laws.

The point is that we could prevent much of the information gathered by companies (though not all obviously–shippers have to know where to ship things to) if we wanted to do so. Good luck getting Congress to do this though. But the commercialization of our private information doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of 21st century economic life.

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