The question of privacy versus marketing continues to rage on.

The latest revelations regarding the decisions that Facebook made surrounding the privacy and disclosure of user data are yet another body blow to the marketing giant.  But these revelations aren’t just applicable to Facebook, since it’s also come to light recently that Amazon accidentally sent transcripts and recordings from Alexa to the wrong user, and it seems that nearly every day another company is caught in the privacy versus marketing trap – albeit one they have laid for themselves.

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Where privacy is mentioned, it is often in the context of how Facebook can use it as a public relations strategy to soften the blow of the sweeping changes to developers’ access to user data. The documents include several examples suggesting that these changes were designed to cement Facebook’s power in the marketplace, not to protect users.

Targeted marketing isn’t new, in concept or execution.

The privacy versus marketing battle did not start with Facebook, or Google, or even with Microsoft, although technology companies are often the whipping boys for the privacy arguments that we hear on the nightly news in this day and age.  Well before Facebook was a twinkle in Zuck’s eye, there were plenty of companies out there gathering and aggregating data on the common folk, and even more so on the uncommon folk, at least by the pocketbook standards.

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Companies like Experian (formerly TRW), Transunion, and Equifax have long been a thorn in the side of the average person, since they collect data – without explicit permission to do so in the beginning and still, according to privacy and consumer rights advocates – and have been in the business of selling or ‘leveraging’ that data much more extensively than most technology companies would ever consider doing.

Each of the three credit bureaus has its own focus within the credit industry. Experian’s specialty is to provide businesses with viable leads (think pre-approved credit card offers). Equifax has a strong grasp on corporate credit analysis. TransUnion tracks foreign creditors heavily and analyzes the creditworthiness of Americans living abroad.

Along the way we’ve seen these vast troves of data accidentally released into the wild; turning them into mass pits of raw ones and zeros that can be tabulated, decoded and turned into stolen identities, ruined lives, and at the shallow end of the pool, creepy advertisements that pop up at inopportune moments for those who are targeted based on the data collected about them by these huge data miners.

How do you know if you’ve been compromised?

We’re more than likely looking at a ‘cat out of the bag’ scenario, and once the wily animal has found his freedom, it’s nearly impossible to get him back into said bag.  So that means the majority of us – probably anyone over the age of 12 in a first world country, at least – has already had their privacy breached past a point that’s recoverable.  If your SSN or SIN isn’t out there waiting to be trampled upon by a scheming identity thief, then your email addresses, postal addresses, known employers and a good bit more information are more than likely making the rounds.

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There are websites that claim to know whether or not you’ve been “pwned” (stupid word, but whatever) and if you’ll give them your email address then you can find out for yourself if it’s true.  One thing we do know about those type of databases is that you’re certainly confirming that an email address is active if nothing else when you attempt to find out whether or not anyone else has the address.

You should be able to tell if your email address is compromised – by that we simply mean that it’s in spam databases – just on the appearance of the emails you get to your inbox.  If you’re a Gmail user, you can always use the + addressing system when you sign up to email lists.  If you’re not familiar with how this works, here’s a quick tutorial.

Will GDPR work outside of Europe?  Or even in Europe?

GDPR is a new set of regulations in Europe that are designed to maintain or return privacy to individuals, at least as it pertains to companies.  There are about as many different ways to circumvent the basics of the requirements as there are barristers in the EU, so it’s not a good idea to get your hopes up thinking that this is somehow going to have a domino effect and create a situation where US companies that have your data will have to stop using it, get rid of it, no longer let others see it, or anything similar to these ideas.

Privacy versus marketing is not going away any time soon – there are too many demonstrated financial successes for too many companies who have learned to use the data to predict what you’re going to do next, buy next, read next, or think about next.


It’s incredibly likely that our privacy is gone for good.  And we haven’t even talked about the ways that government impinges on it yet.