Cool New Tech Devices: What Privacy Risks Are Wrapped Up Under Your Tree?

Are you asking for a “smart” appliance or thermostat, fitness tracking device, connected security camera system for your home, or even smart clothing this holiday season?  As the holiday season approaches, all the new cool technology gadgets that are “must haves” may have privacy risks you didn’t consider. 

The technology world has coined the connection of devices “The Internet of Things” or “IoT”   Most likely, when you think of "the Internet", you visualize going online by using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  However, with technological advances, numerous other everyday devices can also access the Internet and transmit various types of data.  In fact, almost any item (even an article of clothing with a special tag) can be connected to the Internet. 

Data Brokers: Buying and Selling Your Personal Information

Perhaps you just purchased a new home.  Maybe you’re getting married or expecting a baby.  You bought a new car.  You subscribed to a magazine.  Or maybe you just ordered a pizza.  What do all of these activities have in common?  There’s a good chance that your personal information may have fallen into the hands of a data broker. 

While data brokers often remain invisible to consumers, they have the potential to significantly impact our lives.  It can be challenging, if not impossible, for consumers to escape the collection of personal data by data brokers. 

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s new guide Data Brokers and Your Privacy discusses the data broker industry and the “digital dossiers” that they assemble about individuals.  These dossiers often include a surprisingly broad range of information.

Victim of a Data Breach? What Should You Do?

If you have been a victim of a data breach, you need to understand that there are differences between the types of breaches and the potential for both financial fraud and/or identity theft.

 

1. Understand what kind of breach occurred. You can read PRC’s Fact Sheet 17b: How to Deal with a Security Breach or take a look at our Chronology of Data Breaches for examples of the types of breaches. Depending on the breach specifics and the state in which you live, you may receive a breach notification letter that describes what happened. You might also find out about a breach through media reports.

Understanding Health and Medical Privacy

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has recently updated and expanded our consumer guides on health privacy.  We are excited to release our updated HIPAA Health Privacy Fact Sheets.   Visit our Medical Privacy page to find additional resources on health-related privacy issues.  As always, please feel free to contact us with your privacy questions and complaints

The Power of Complaints: An Opportunity to Strengthen the Consumer’s Voice

Virtually every American adult uses at least one, and usually several, financial products. These include credit cards, pre-paid cards, bank accounts, credit reporting, mortgages, loans, and money transfers.

When problems occur, the consequences can be severe: for example, the inability to obtain credit; difficulty getting a mortgage; and being hounded by debt collectors for someone else’s debt.

In 2011, a new federal agency was launched, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), with an important mission – regulating financial products and services. The CFPB invites complaints via its website, which has been carefully designed for ease of use. It also engages in consumer financial education.

In the past three years, it has received more than 400,000 complaints. Complaints about specific financial products and services are forwarded to the appropriate companies for their response and, when warranted, resolution.

The CFPB has brought its complaint process into the sunlight by posting on its website the nature of those complaints and their status in the resolution process.  Anyone with Internet access can visit www.consumerfinance.gov to both submit their own complaints and view the bare bones details of many thousands more. 

Facebook Does It Again

Shortly after its founding, Facebook had developed a rather simple privacy policy: “No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.”

Over the years, Facebook has frequently changed its Privacy Policy and tinkered with default privacy settings, almost always to the detriment of its users.  Mashable has chronicled some of these changes in its infographic A Short History of Facebook Privacy Failure.

Recently, a team of researchers released a study detailing how emotions expressed in Facebook posts and status updates can actually spread to your friends.

Parents: How Much Should You Share Online When it Comes to Your Kids?

We live in a “social world.”   Parents have many opportunities to disclose information about their children in social forums – by posting family news and photos on Facebook, tweeting your child’s latest accomplishments in sports, even launching a blog.

Social media can be a great tool for parents, but how do you know when you are sharing too much information about your kids?

This is largely a matter of personal choice, but it is important to be aware that the burden generally falls on parents to protect their children’s privacy.   As is often the case, it is easier to be proactive than reactive. 

Here are three very basic points to bear in mind before you share information about your child on social media.

Debt collector or scam artist? Know how to spot a fake

As we become increasingly reliant on digital data, we sometimes take for granted that the companies we entrust with our information are taking the necessary steps to keep it safe. Many are, but many are still way behind and that is what the hackers, cybercriminals and scam artists are counting on.

The fake debt collector scam is particularly disturbing. While the scam isn’t a new one, criminals are finding innovative ways to accomplish their goals of stealing your money, your identity, or both.

Recently, the database of a national collection and debt service company was breached. Specific information about individuals was accessed, including the amount of debt owed, names, phone numbers, addresses, co-signer information, and Social Security numbers. Fraudsters then posed as legitimate debt collectors. With such a vast knowledge of the account holders’ information, an individual would have little reason to be suspicious.

The FTC’s Data Broker Report: What does it mean for you?

The data broker industry has been on the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s (PRC) radar for over a decade, and we continue to receive questions and complaints about data brokers almost every day. Lawmakers, regulators, and media have focused more attention on the industry in recent years, but it is still difficult for individuals to understand what is going on and why they are unable to exercise any meaningful control over their information.

On May 27, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report titled “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.”  The report is the result of an FTC study of nine data brokers offering people-search, marketing, and/or risk mitigation products.  It explains how particular data brokers operate, lays out risks and benefits they pose to individuals, and asks Congress to consider legislative solutions. 

So you have a privacy question or complaint—now what?

Submit your privacy questions and complaints to us through our Online Complaint Center (OCC). Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s dedicated Consumer Advisor responds to everyone, and we work very hard to stay up-to-date on a wide range of privacy issues

Here are some common questions we receive about the OCC.

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