It is Absolutely Critical that you Understand YOU Are the Digital World’s Currency

October 15, 2011

In order to truly be a “free” website the provider cannot charge you fees, collect your information to sell, rent, lease, or share, or put advertising in front of you. Needless to say, there are very few truly free websites; most that are truly free are government, institutional, school, or non-profit websites, though even many of these types of organizations advertise and sell consumer information.

The way most ‘free’ services make money is not by selling advertising. What they sell is access to you, and information about you to advertisers, marketers and researchers, and others.

Your information is the commodity that drives the internet economy. It is collected through your online actions and the information you share, as well as through the exposure of your information by others.

Every piece of information you post, and every action you take online has value to some company or someone. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This trade in information lets you use the websites without paying money for your access. Your information helps companies provide you ads that are more targeted to your interests. It helps researchers and companies know what kind of products to design, and so on.

If you read a website’s terms and conditions you should be able to see just what information is being collected and how it is shared, though many companies make it very difficult to understand the full scope of their use of your information.

In addition to the information the hosting site is collecting and monetizing, an entire new industry has been created just to collect all the information posted by you or about you on any site – including government sites – to sell, rent, share, etc. to any interested party – see my blog Civil Rights Get Trampled in Internet Background Checks to learn more on this particular aspect.

And the data collection and reuse does not end with the hosting company or data collection companies. Your information is also collected and used by recruiters to make their hiring or enrollment decisions, potential dates or friends, by journalists interested in interviewing you. It’s searched by charitable organizations that are looking for sympathetic individuals to ask for charitable donations. And your information is collected and used and by far less pleasant people who want to use the information for things like bullying, cyberstalking, identity theft, home robberies, and other crimes.

To really understand your digital value and how this may have consequences far beyond those you feel comfortable with, let’s look at an example.

“Jenny” is 65. She loves using the internet to research information and stay in touch with friends and family. She’s on Twitter with friends, on Facebook with her grandchildren, and on a social networking site for seniors with her interests.

In Jenny’s profile she provides her full name, age, and location. She’s included a short line or two about her interests – chamber orchestra music, gardening, wine and photography. She’s taken a couple of online quizzes of her likes and dislikes which makes it easier for new people to see if they have something in common with her.

In one blog post she notes that she’s fed up with the democratic agenda. In another she talks about her grandkids that come to her house twice a week after school.  She complains that her knees and back hurt twice a week – on the days after her grandkids are over. And she says she hates exercising as much as she ever did, but that it’s even harder to get motivated since her mastectomy.

She tweets from the same doughnut shop every morning where she meets up with friends. On her senior site she joins a wine aficionado group and slyly acknowledges that while she only has one glass of wine a day – she frequently refills that glass several times over!

The photos Jenny has posted are of grandkids, her dog and nature shots.  There’s nothing embarrassing in what she’s posted, she wasn’t mean to anyone, but she doesn’t really understand the far reaching ramifications of what she posts.

How do others use this information?

The web service companies she uses collect this information – as well as information about the website she was on before she came to their site (ah, she banks at Chase) and the website she navigates to when she leaves – (oh, she went to the appointment scheduling page of a doctor in the ABC medical practice). They collect they type of computer/phone being used (wow, that’s an old HP!), it’s operating system, IP address, location, etc.

The web service companies are likely to cross tab this information with other information collected by data aggregators from government websites like Jenny her birth certificate – parents’ names, place of birth, date of birth, which when combined with records where Jenny has entered the last 4 digits of her social security number, provides her whole SSN – see my blog Kids and Financial ID Theft; a Growing Issue to learn how SSN’s are deconstructed.

Data aggregators have also collected the birth certificates of her children and grandchildren, her voter record, criminal record (clean), driving record (two speeding tickets in past 18 months). They’ve also gathered information on her deceased husband, what he did for a living (and her projected retirement funds), and information about her home, and previous properties she’s owned.

Crawling the web, data aggregators also see where she’s donated to charities, what her friends are saying about her, what information is discoverable through her photos, and the vehicles she has registered (one car, one boat).

And so on.

What surprises Jenny is that when she chooses to switch auto and boat insurers, she’s denied because of her potential drinking problem, which combined with her speeding tickets could be an expensive mess for the insurance company. She is also denied when she tries to purchase some life insurance – anyone who eats doughnuts every morning, hates to exercise and has already had cancer isn’t seen as a good risk.

Donation requests from music organizations, and catalogs from gardening, and pet supplies companies start showing up on a whole slew of websites Jenny visits online – and more arrive in her mailbox.

Her granddaughter discovers she will have to pay more for medical coverage because the insurance company learned through Jenny’s posts that breast cancer runs in the family.

Jenny falls for an ID theft scam that looked like a request for information from her doctor’s office asking her to reconfirm her billing and insurance data for their records.

To make matters worse, Jenny came home last week after her daily doughnut shop meet up, to find her home had been broken into. All of her photography equipment was stolen.

Once Jenny recognized how information she posted was affecting her, and her family members, she immediately took down some of her posts. Unfortunately, the data aggregators, and web service companies still have their data sets, so the damage is permanent.

If you take this scenario, and expand it to all the communications, contacts, and digital data collected about you, you’ll begin to see the magnitude of the financial model behind web services and data aggregators.

I am frequently asked why internet service companies don’t do a better job in giving their customers what they want. The answer to this is simple; they are giving their customers what they want – and what they want is your data.

In short, while you are the consumer of a websites services, you are not the service’s customers – those are companies paying to get access to you and your information.

A great illustration of this concept was created by the people behind Geek and Poke, and though the company targeted in the cartoon is Facebook, the concept applies to every other web service or product that makes their money behind the scenes.

As you provide information consider how it is being sold, bought, or simply taken and make sure you’re okay with potential outcomes now and over time.

Learn more about the commodity model in this blog When it Comes to Online Ad Tracking, You Can Opt out Any Time You’d Like – But Can You Ever Leave?

Note: does not collect, trade, sell, or use any information about our readers, nor do we accept any advertising on our site. The occasional ad that does land on our pages is NOT associated with us in any way.



47% of Consumers Are Underprotected when Banking Online

August 28, 2011

Consumers typically belong to one of three types of online banking behavior; and age plays a strong role in which type you belong to according to new research by McAfee that has been packaged up as a handy educational guide. Here’s how they break down the three types, and an overview of the advice McAfee gives to each group:

  1. “Competent But A Little Careless”: Ages 18-24This group is the most comfortable with technology but they tend to be overconfident, sometimes forgetting to put basic security practices into place.

    Advice: Smarten up; your confidence is not well placed. This group spends an average of 32 hours a week online, and because of their comfort level with technology, they confidently use new technologies – 44% prefer online banking. Yet 68% of users in this age bracket don’t even have a basic anti-virus program installed, and 41% have never heard of malicious software. Only 30% say they are actively protecting themselves. While this group is comfortable doing things online, they’re doing it without protection and are highly vulnerable to attack.

  2. “Confident But Casual”: Ages 25-45This group uses the Internet for both work and personal reasons and are the most frequent online banking users. However, they are sometimes casual about security.

    Advice: If you’re casual about security, you’re compromised. This group uses the internet heavily for work, entertainment, to make purchases…and to bank online. Those ages 31-44 do more online banking than any other demographic group, and they are more likely to get their financial information online. While this group is 5% more likely to use antivirus software than their younger counterparts, a 47% antivirus adoption rate is still shockingly poor. Unfortunately, this group’s faith in their security skills is likely to be a stumbling block as the majority believe they are doing enough to stay safe, with only 35% saying they needed more information.

  3. “Conservative But Cautious”: Over 45 years old This group is not as familiar as younger generations with technology, and a smaller portion use online banking. They tend to be more cautious when going online, and are in fact better protected than the other groups because research shows a higher percentage have security software.

    Advice: Though you are the best protected group, you need more security.  This group has a mixed track record in technology adoption as they don’t have as many connected devices, are less tech-savvy and spend less time online, but they are the group that spends the most on everything from their telecom fees to PC purchases. Younger boomers bank online, but those over 55 are far less likely to do so.  Fortunately though this group is the best protected by security software, it is also the group that knows they need more security information.

To learn the specific steps each target group should take, check out the full Online Banking Safety Guide, Graphics and Video on the McAfee blog.


Banking online picking up steam – stay safer with a few tips

July 30, 2009

Banking online picking up steam – stay safer with a few tips


A new article by Herb Weisbaum – ‘the consumerman’ – on MSNBC outlines the sharp increase in the number of users of online banking services, and cites Linda Criddle for how to stay safer when doing so.

The article references a Harris Interactive survey that found 80% of U.S. households with Internet access – nearly 70 million households –– use some form of online banking service. That’s a sharp increase of over 2 million households in the last year.

The number of online banking customers is expected to continue rising. “We predict steady growth as more go online and see the benefit of doing your banking from anywhere at anytime, ” says Steve Shaw, director of strategic marketing at Fiserv, a financial services technology firm.

At the same time, banks are shedding retail branches. On Tuesday, Bank of America announced it is closing about 600 branches. The reason? Liam McGee, president of Bank of America’s consumer and small-business bank, said part of the reason for the move is that more customers prefer online and mobile banking.

So how do you bank online safely?

Internet security expert Linda Criddle, who runs the Web site, describes herself as an avid online banker. She says you need to ask yourself three questions before jumping online.

  • Is your computer secure? You must have up-to-date security software, which means antivirus and anti-spyware protection.
  • Is your connection secure? Make sure the firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information.
  • Do you have a secure password? It doesn’t have to be hard to remember, just hard to guess. Don’t share it with anyone and don’t respond to any e-mail requesting that information. That “urgent” message may look like it’s from your bank, but it’s bogus. A financial institution would never send you an e-mail asking for your PIN or password. Never!

“If you’ve done all of the above, then you’re off to a good start,” Criddle says. “You can have reasonably strong chance of having only positive experiences.”

You also need to be extremely careful when you conduct banking business away from home. Your laptop needs to be secure and so does your wireless connection. Criddle recommends avoiding computers at Internet cafes.

The bottom line: Before you conduct your most sensitive financial transactions you need to be absolutely certain both the Internet connection and the computer you’re using are secure. If you don’t have 100 percent confidence – don’t take the chance.

Read the full article here.