Privacy is one of your greatest and most valuable assets, and it’s always under attack. This time, it’s the states’ DMVs selling off your information to turn a quick buck.
December 9, 2019
By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP
The thing is, many states already do this and have been for years. The government would sell your soul to the devil for a corn chip if it could. It has no loyalties.
While your legislators are toiling over opt-in or opt-out regulations on private corporations, they seem to be oddly silent when it comes to government agencies selling off your information.
Andrew Yang, in fact, is railing against digital businesses that profit from your information. But I think we should be clear about anonymity and how information is used.
If a private company like a stadium or mall wants to sell ad space that would ostensibly be exposed to all who come to that venue and pass that location, that is their prerogative. The stadium where the LA Lakers and Clippers play is called the “Staple Center” because Staples bought the title rights to do so, so everyone who comes will see Staples branding.
Staples doesn’t know who you are, but it knows that those who come to the arena are basketball lovers, possibly sports enthusiasts, and there is likely research that supports some overlap between sports enthusiasts and business owners.
This is a similar principle to how social media advertising works. It tracks the interests of users and their profiles and then the advertisers don’t get your personal information, but rather the platform uses an algorithm to attempt to match users with more relevant ads. Social Media, much like mall advertising, is selling exposure of advertisers to their users like a mall does, but filtering who sees it for relevance.
Since the platform itself is free to the users, the advertisers ultimately foot the bill for the existence of things like Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Contrast that with the DMV that sells your personal information for as little as $0.01 to massive data brokerage firms who then resell your information to marketers and advertisers.
The major difference is whether the parties to whom you consented to giving your data are the only ones who have it. You consented to Facebook having the data you used to sign up, they fully disclose that they are tracking your activity. Facebook doesn’t actually sell your individual information to outside advertisers.
The DMV sells the information you are compelled to give to get a state issued ID card. A barometer I use to see whether I can reasonably expect the privacy is: can someone deduce that information independent of that source?
For example, from a public street I could observe a house and glean several pieces of information.
I can determine that the house is occupied. On a long enough timeline I can see who comes and goes from that house. I might see a cat or dog. Based on the cars they drive and the neighborhood, I could estimate their household income range. Then there’s bonus information I could get from things like bumper stickers on their cars.
Some things aren’t totally private and are a matter of public knowledge if the public were inclined to pay attention. This is the kind of “anonymity” you can expect from a VPN. You’re not 100% invisible, so it’s possible to ascertain some information.
There is information, however, that requires intrusion to get. The names of the people who live in the house. Their exact ages. Their exact occupations and where they work. Their credit score. Their actual income. Whether they are registered to vote and with which party. Whether they own the car free and clear, or still have a lien. How many accidents they’ve had.
The latter is what the DMV is selling. You don’t have a choice but to give that information, and often what you claim on your insurance winds up attached to your driver license. Sadly, driver licenses are also tethered to delinquent taxes, child support, and student loans. This information is far more personal.
Here are five states that make millions off selling your DMV information:
When confronted, the state spokesperson always says they are in compliance with federal and state laws, which means the laws allow them to sell the information. In some cases like New York, you can opt out. But they only tell you that buried somewhere on their website.
The onus isn’t on the state government to keep your information secure. It’s on the purchaser of your information NOT to misuse it. I think a sly wink is strongly implied here, because there have been several cases where the companies who bought the information did not comply.
It’s unquestionably unethical for the state to charge you to submit the information and then turn around and charge others to buy it off them. That’s just a racket.
But it is happening nonetheless, and if you’re in the US, you need to be mindful and cautious. This comes down to fault and responsibility. It’s the government’s fault for being reckless and stupid. But it’s your information, so it’s you’re responsibility to try and keep it safe.
Are there things you can do to keep your information more private? Absolutely.
The first thing is: ask your DMV if they offer an opt-out of their data sharing. You shouldn’t have to do this, I know. But if you don’t, you’re in for a deluge of robo-calls, solicitors, and spam. The odds of your information being mishandled goes up and you’re the one at risk, not them.
Second, have a separate email account for non-business and non-personal things. One is for when you sign up for coupons. Another could be for what you register for social media. And one could be the one you give to official people you’d rather not give information to, like the DMV, your insurance company, your mortgage company. Save the one you want to give to friends and family for them.
Then, you only give away your phone number if it is a required field. Many don’t even check for that red asterisk and fill it in because it’s on the form.
If you do nothing else, those two things are free and easy.
If you’re looking to go further than that, there is a third step. Like insurance, it’s not free, but it is worthwhile to have the protection.
Interested in taking that third step? Then you will absolutely want my Off-The-Grid Privacy Report. Here’s what’s covered:
How to get your name out of public databases
How to make your assets invisible to prying eyes
Ensure your vehicle ownership is 100% untraceable
How to make your wealth completely anonymous
How to protect yourself online
And a few more secrets that can help you create a veil of privacy as well as potentially huge tax savings
Whatever you choose to do, stay safe and protect your privacy.
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