Personal details pertaining to over 2,000 Australian women who have signed up for online dating services are being sold for just $US60.
ABC News Online reports that it’s a company registered in New York that is selling the personal data and that this data includes very intimate details like the person’s age, photographs, personal preferences etc. The report cites the case of a woman, for whom her file that has been sold online included details like her not having any children and even that she would like some in the future. Women who have got their personal data thus sold online are now concerned that their identities are treated like saleable commodities and are also afraid that it would now be easy to track them down.
The New York-registered company that sold the data has obtained the same from different dating apps and websites. ABC News Online could manage to buy this data as part of its investigation into data privacy. It’s to be remembered that dating websites often include, as part of the terms and conditions that users accept while creating an account, the right to share or sell client data as well.
Today there are many companies that do data scraping on a widespread scale, especially from dating sites and the like. The companies that collect and combine such data are called data brokers. The ABC News Online report tells us that the US Federal Trade Commission had found one data broker alone possessing 3,000 pieces of data on almost every person in the U.S. It’s also stated that though there is no clarity as regards the number of companies selling and trading data like this, the estimates show that in the U.S alone there might be 2.500 to 4,000 data brokers.
The news, by all means, is shocking. Intimate, personal details of people being available for sale online, that too for a very cheap price, is shocking news indeed! Even more shocking is the fact that data brokers tend to classify people based on such data in a very discriminatory manner. ABC News Online cites the example of consumers being grouped and “elderly and gullible” and then information regarding them being sold to gambling marketers. This makes a set of consumers vulnerable in many ways. It’s also pointed out that it’s difficult for Australians whose data have thus been sold to rely on the law to protect the data because much of it is stored outside Australia’s jurisdiction.
Data brokers, who are now well-established in the U.S, have now started looking for “greener pastures”. They are eyeing new international markets, including the likes of Australia. They intend to use the very same algorithms that they use to collect and combine data in the U.S in other countries as well.
Well, this puts us in a very difficult kind of situation. It’s almost akin to saying that for a person who ventures online for various purposes, the word “privacy” doesn’t exist or has become irrelevant. Dating websites store (and even sell) data pertaining to the person’s very personal likings and preferences; Google and social media platforms (like Facebook) keep tracking people, their friends and families, their political and personal interests, their shopping activities etc. With people relying more and more on mobile applications, it has now become possible to track people physically as well, following them as they move around doing shopping, vacationing or taking part in events. Loads of data pertaining to people are thus collected and algorithms based on such data are taking things to a very different and rather complicated level.