Sunday, June 12, 2005

Keeping your data secret is up to you

An increasing portion of the mainstream media are picking up on privacy issues, mainly stemming from the string of breaches starting with ChoicePoint and culminating in the most recent CitiFinancial data loss. The Boston Globe is running a column by Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post that calls for legislation but also suggests that consumers become more proactive in protecting their personal information. The columnist shows one example from her own experience:

Keeping your data secret is up to you - The Boston Globe - - Your Money - Business:

"... For instance, I recently contracted to have an alarm system installed in my home. As I was filling out the sales agreement, I noticed a request for my Social Security number. I refused to divulge it. The salesman said it was a requirement. He said I ''had" to give it to him.

I unequivocally refused to divulge my number. A manager of the company called. He explained that it was needed to pull my credit score because we were signing up for a three-year monitoring service. He said it had been their experience that people with low credit scores often break the three-year contract.

Even if that was the case, I was appalled at the lack of security about my data from this company. By my rough estimate, from the time the salesman took my service agreement to his office, my data could have been exposed to at least half a dozen of the company's employees. In several of the recent data breaches, employees were doing the pilfering.

I was prepared to leave my home unprotected for the time being in the name of protecting my personal data.

Ah, but here's where it pays to be persistent about protecting your data.

The manager came up with a way to get my Social Security number without me actually giving it to him or anyone else at the company. In a three-way conference call, he phoned the credit bureau and when the automatic system asked for the customer's Social Security number, I punched it in. All he heard on his end was a beeping sound. In a few seconds he got my credit score without having to know my Social Security number.

So folks, it's up to us. We have to become our own data protectors. You may not win the battle all the time, but if you're fierce enough you can reduce the number of companies that have your information."

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