Thursday, August 25, 2016

Big Data is stalking every American

by Mouser The King Cat

Bit by bit, byte by byte, American traditions of privacy are eroded every day. Now IDI, a new player in the market, claims to have taken Big Data to the next level by compiling a profile on every adult in the U.S. (Presumably pets are next; they will know I like Fancy Feast.) Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Who wants this stuff? Mainly private detectives, of which there are 35,000 in the country, according to the story. Forty-three states require that PIs be licensed, so there is oversight. But that amounts to little, the story notes:

So what’s in an idiCORE report? From the story, citing Mr. Dubner:

“These personal profiles include all known addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses; every piece of property ever bought or sold, plus related mortgages; past and present vehicles owned; criminal citations, from speeding tickets on up; voter registration, hunting permits, and names and phone numbers of neighbors. The reports also include photos of cars taken by private companies using automated license plate readers – billions of snapshots tagged with GPS coordinates and time stamps to help PIs surveil people or bust alibis.”

The story doesn’t say where other information might come from, but the company late last year acquired marketing profiler Fluent, which claims to have 120 million profiles of U.S. consumers. In June, IDI bought ad platform Q Interactive. Chains with loyalty programs might be selling data. To supplement its legitimate sources, IDI runs two shady coupon websites, which inquire about medical conditions and the like, supposedly so discounts on products might be offered. Talk about preying on the dumb.

Mr. Dubner downplays the threats to privacy, citing such uses as locating a missing person or catching fraud or terrorism suspects. The concept of PIs and detectives trading information goes back a long way.

How accurate are individuals’ profiles? That is a major question, because databases are easily fouled up as information is imported. (The job is too big for mere humans, explaining why the NSA can’t identify terrorists despite vacuuming up billions of phone calls, e-mails and postings on social media.)

Case in point: One of my assistants constantly gets mail at her house addressed to people who have NEVER lived there. Because data companies can’t figure out she’s divorced, mail for her ex shows up every week.

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