How insurers sell your data
Guest blogger Justin Basini of ALLOW explains how insurers are cashing in on your personal data, and how to protect yourself
The market for personal data in the UK is estimated to be worth £750m and the trade in people's information is a lucrative one.
And it's YOUR data that's being traded, as you will likely be on multiple databases and lists. If you enter competitions, complete online surveys, shop online or from a catalogue, subscribe to magazines or register for newsletters, then you are putting your personal data out there. Similarly, if you have not opted out of the edited electoral register (only 50% of people have), then you are fair game for marketers.
Who's doing the selling?
Companies that typically sell your data are list brokers, who rent access to lists of consumers for a certain fee per thousand people. Clients can pay extra for more information, such as your phone number, email address, marital status and in some cases whether you have children.
There are many list brokers up and down the country and they are adept at hoovering up data.
List brokers also sell access to lists from specific companies, typically retailers and publishers, but we also recently found evidence that some insurance companies were at it too. The customer lists on sale were very detailed and the list broker selling them claimed to have access to a database of over eight million people.
Getting off the lists
The main problem with this trade in personal data is that it is opaque and consumers have no real awareness in what is going on. Some people might not be worried that their data is a commodity, but others will be very concerned to know that this happens. Most people generally find unsolicited marketing, junk mails, spam and sales calls tiresome and annoying.
By law, a company has to give you the chance to opt out of marketing and be removed from a database. But in reality, many people don't know that they can do this, or they don't know how to.
In addition, companies probably keep data for longer than they should. We think that it would be much fairer if organisations made it clear up front why they needed your data and what they do with it, rather than bury it in the small print. We also think that the wording of privacy policies should be made much clearer and standardised.
Thirdly, we think that the default setting for marketing should be 'opt-out', and the individual should be able to choose to opt in.
There are ways that you can fight back and regain control over your data. You can register with various 'preference services' to say that you don't want marketing calls and mail, or you can register with ALLOW and we can do it all for you.
Total privacy is no longer a realistic option in a world that is so inter-connected. We all need to trade a certain amount of data in this digital age in order to use 'free' services such as Google Mail and Facebook, but that doesn't mean we should give companies carte blanche to make money out of our information.
Data is valuable and consumers should be able get some of that value for themselves. Data is what all companies want and marketers will stop at nothing to get their hands on it in order to sell more ‘stuff’ to you. In the battle for consumer data more needs to be done to empower and educate consumers.
Justin Basini is chief executive of ALLOW
What do you think? Does it bother you that your details are sold as a commodity? Does more need to be done to stop firms cashing in on your data? Let us know your views in the comment box below.