We deserve to know which companies track & sell our location and sexual orientation

California is considering a landmark “Right to Know” privacy law that As much as technology continues to evolve, privacy legislation, especially in the US, continues to lag further and further behind.

Political lobbying from Facebook, and other online powers that make money from your digital details, has made protecting privacy a non-issue in Washington (and America), until now.

If you’re not already following the Electronic Frontier Foundation, you really should, because they do good work, including alerting people to important legislation such as this out of California. It’s a complicated issue, but in a nutshell, California law already permits you to contact businesses and ask them to provide you a list of which other companies they provided (sold) your personal data to (basically for direct-marketing purposes), and what kind of data they gave them.

Computer via Shutterstock

Computer via Shutterstock

The new proposal would go much father.  The ACLU fact sheet on this says that current California only covers older styles of telemarketing, such as mail, email and phone calls.  The new law would include direct marketing via online advertisers, data brokers, and third party apps.

Another good thing the new proposal would do is update the laws listing of what kind of personal information the company would have you that it’s keeping on, and selling about, you.  For example, under the old law they’d have to tell you if they’re selling your name, address, and phone number.  But under the new law companies would have to tell you if they’re keeping track of, and selling, data about your sexual orientation, location, associations, and buying habits.

It really is scary what these companies know about us, and how much we don’t even know about what information they already have, and what they’re doing with it.  (Also scary is how much our own ignorance, or lack of caring, contributes to our lost privacy.)

WesleyClark300

General Wesley Clark

It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven year since John Aravosis bought General Wesley Clark’s cell phone records for $89.  While John’s admirable stunt finally got that problem fixed, it’s going to take a lot more stunts to convince our government, and big business, to take our privacy seriously.

It’s not unreasonable for consumers to know how their personal data is being sold and used. And as EFF notes in their piece, these protections already exist overseas, so these companies already know how to pull this data.

Another important point that the EFF makes is that storing some of this data is not necessary. We all know how secure stored data is – not very – even when organizations have extensive security infrastructures. Store it and they will come, if you will.

Sadly, a number of large companies have banded together with the Obama administration to block efforts to improve privacy protections for several years now.  Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones wrote a few weeks ago about how Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon and eBay are working with the Obama administration to fight European Union efforts to increase privacy protections across the Atlantic.

Facebook’s spending on lobbying is up 196%.  Google’s is up 70%.  And while some of that work is “good,” others, like their work to derail privacy legislation, is not.

Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi deserves the same privacy protections that Europeans enjoy.  It’s time for the US to take privacy seriously, and California’s proposed Right to Know law is a giant step in the right direction.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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4 Responses to “We deserve to know which companies track & sell our location and sexual orientation”

  1. cold340t says:

    Who needs privacy? Only people with something to hide! Right?!?!? Only Bad people should worry about “privacy”! These are the thoughts of the 20 somethings who post every detail of their lives online when I asked their opinions about this. Cal students at that. Scary isn’t it!

  2. Fifi says:

    There is a much simpler legal model, which is the one used in France through the “Informatique et libertés” laws from the 1970s.

    Anyone who maintains computer files associated with individuals are required by law to 1) register the existence of those ‘nominatif’ databases to a public commission (known as the CNIL) , 2) to disclose upon request to those individuals ALL and ANY piece of information they may have collected and retained on them (no exception) and 3) to correct that data upon request by those individuals.

    So, yes, in France, you can go your favorite bank/supermarket/online retailer and ask them for all data they have about you. It’s a major pain in the rear to do it and a lot of companies (and public administrations…) play fast and loose with that law, but at least, it’s there, and if you are motivated enough, you can make those bad data collection habits very, very, very painful to those companies.

  3. NotSoPrivate says:

    Speaking of privacy, this is an interesting, and somewhat scary, site:

    http://www.xdd.org/

    They purchased data, scrambled it, and placed it back online. The problem; its REAL data, and although the name doesn’t match the phone number and that doesn’t match the address, they are all still REAL, and belong to someone.

    I found it because I started getting a number of calls on my cell phone, all from an area about 100 miles away, and most asking for a person I’ve never heard of. When I did some searching I found that my cell phone number had been listed at xdd.org and associated with someone from that area.

    There is a way to “obscure” the data, and I did, but if people don’t know the site exists they can’t block it… What worries me is what happens when an abusive husband looks for his estranged wife and finds her number on that site and calls it and then gets blown off by the REAL owner of the phone? Is his next step to go to the listed address, where someone ELSE who has nothing to do with his estranged wife lives, gun in hand?

    It has “FAKE” listed all over it, but obviously that doesn’t work since I received phone calls from 4 different people, some more than once.

    I posted this just so people would be aware of it, and they could check their own information to see if they were listed, (I don’t know if I’d trust their own site, but I first found it through Google).

  4. Drew2u says:

    While living with my father, I signed an online petition by Creedo and they asked for information before I could submit my name to the cause. Weeks later I received, in the mail, some piece of spam from Creedo that was directed to gay men. I was not out to my dad and did not see anywhere on the form that said I gave them permission to send me mail. Naturally I was scared, furious, and paranoid.

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