What your zip code reveals about you

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Witch Doctor 01, Apr 18, 2013.

  1. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    What your zip code reveals about you

    By Melanie Hicken @CNNMoneyApril 18, 2013: 9:59 AM ET

    All that is needed to match the information data brokers compile with what you buy is your full name — obtained when you swipe a credit card — and a zip code, according to data privacy experts.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
    Every time you mindlessly give a sales clerk your zip code at checkout, you're giving data companies and retailers the ability to track everything from your body type to your bad habits.

    That five-digit zip code is one of the key items data brokers use to link a wealth of public records to what you buy. They can figure out whether you're getting married (or divorced), selling your home, smoke cigarettes, sending a kid off to college or about to have one.

    Such information is the cornerstone of a multi-billion dollar industrythat enables retailers to target consumers with advertising and coupons.Yet, data privacy experts are concerned about the level at which consumers are being tracked without their knowledge -- and what would happen if that data got into the wrong hands.
    Acxiom, one of the biggest data brokers in the business, claims to have a database that holds information -- including one's age, marital status, education level, political leanings, hobbies and income level --on 190 million individuals.Major competitors, like Datalogix and CoreLogic, tout similarly vast databases.
    In most cases, all that is needed to match the informationthese data brokers compilewith what you buy is your full name — obtained whenyou swipea credit card — and a zip code, according to data privacy experts.This allows them to figure out that you are the Sally Smith who lives in Butte, Mont., not the one who lives in Denver, for example.
    "For the majority of the country, the zip code is going to be the piece of the puzzle that is going to enable a merchant to identify you," said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
    Related: Your phone company is selling your personal data
    Once a retailer identifies you, it can track and analyze your spending behaviors and background in order to predict what you might buy next. In the data world, this is often called predictive analysis or predictive modeling.
    Buying a bunch of maternity clothes? You must be expecting. Stocking up on diapers and baby food? The baby must have been born, which means you're a new parent now. Buying clothes in larger sizes? You could end up classified as an overweight or obese consumer. And so on.
    Some retailers sell this information back to the data brokers which then sell it to other companies -- including retailers, banks, credit card issuers, airlines, hotels, auto manufacturers and even Facebook -- in a seemingly never-ending cycle.
    "Some of these data brokers know us better than we know ourselves," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.
    Related: What type of consumer are you?
    Of course, you typically don't have to give your zip code to a cashier. Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that zip codes are "personal" information under state consumer privacy laws, after Melissa Tyler sued craft store Michaels for using her zip code to find her and send store mailings. She had thought the zip code was required to complete her credit card transaction, according to the suit.
    Now retailers in the state can't ask for your zip code for marketing purposes -- joining California, which had a similar court case.
    You often have the right to "opt out" of letting data brokers and other companies share certain information they've gathered about you, but few people do so, said Dixon.

    The Federal Trade Commission is requiring the nine major data brokers to explain how they collect, store and use consumer data. Major data firms have noted that they don't reveal sensitive information, like Social Security or driver's license numbers. Still, the agency is concerned that brokers' databases could be hacked, creating identity theft risks.
    Currently, data brokers are required by federal law to maintain the privacy of a consumer's data only if it is used for credit, employment, insurance or housing.
    But there are some gray areas. Medical records and prescription purchases are off limits, but data brokers are allowedto track purchases of over-the-counter drugs and other related medical items, as well as web searches and medical surveys that consumers fill out online, said Dixon.
    That has allowed Acxiom to create a "health interest" category, which highlights consumers with "interests related to"health conditions,such as arthritis and diabetes. In a letter to Congress, Acxiom officials noted that they do not collect data about sensitive health conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases.
    Related: Banks sell consumer shopping data to retailers
    The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, argues that the data collection allows retailers to better target their marketing campaigns, ultimately benefiting consumers.
    Because "discounts are sent to a relatively small group, rather than to an entire neighborhood, the merchant saves money and can afford to give its likely customers bigger or more frequent reductions," Mallory Duncan, senior vice president and general counsel for the NRF, said in a statement.
    Privacy advocates counter that consumers should at least be more aware how they are being tracked.
    "There is nothing wrong with advertising," Dixon said. "The problem is when we don't know our information is being used."
    hidden211 likes this.
  2. NWPilgrim

    NWPilgrim Monkey++

    This has been going on for a long time. I took a programming class in 1990 that tapped into one of these marketing demographic databases (for a fee). As the article says, with a name and zip code it could pull info such as names and ages of family members, address, mortgage records, estimated income range, etc. Iimagine in 20+ years they have real scary capabilities.
  3. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Some stores can not progress to the next page to check out without the required fields filled out. I got tired of arguing with them. they ask and I tell them. my phone number is (000)000-0000, my zip is 00000. deal with it.:(
  4. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I never give out my zip or any other personal info when shopping- why give them info, it's none of their business. The checkers at the local grocery store are always trying to get my name, because it does not show on the receipt at checkout even though I have the "club card"... a couple have pushed pretty hard and asked multiple times.... I just say thank you.....and walk away with my bags.
  5. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    I use cards that don't have any name on them for the stores that require them for a discount...
  6. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    I agree 100% ,
    Next is the Smart Meters , electric cars with GPS , Cell phones charged not at your married house ,

    Sluth :) jk
  7. STANGF150

    STANGF150 Knowledge Seeker

    They ask for my Zip code I tend to tell them 90210 =X

    They ask for my phone number, I tell them "I don't give that out" ONCE a girl didn't want to take that for an answer. So I got evil & informed her ignorant self. Asked her if she knew how much info you can find out about sumone just from a phone number. You can find out where they live, how many people live there, how many have ever lived there, as well as the address which can lead you to learning even more about that location & people. An that in this day and age of information theft that I did NOT trust her store to not have it stolen or simply SELL my information for a few bucks.
    kellory likes this.
  8. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Offer to leave the merchandise if they get too inquisitive/won't take no for an answer....... or better yet tell them you're homeless and hit them up for a donation
    DMGoddess and kellory like this.
  9. DMGoddess

    DMGoddess Monkey+++

    I'll try that, next time. Fortunately, the market near me doesn't do that anymore. I guess the Latino clerks got tired of trying to decipher Russian, Armenian, Philipino, and Hindi accents, and the Russian clerks got tired of Mexican accents.
survivalmonkey SSL seal        survivalmonkey.com warrant canary