That's for starters. Did you recently get married, buy a house, have a baby, send a kid to college, and/or get divorced? Data companies know about it and will sell that info, profiting on the details of your personal life. They also collect data about your hobbies, purchases, and charitable donations. A subsidiary of credit reporting company Equifax collects detailed salary and pay stub information for roughly 38 percent of employed Americans.
The government is also in the information commerce business: Your state's Department of Motor Vehicles may sell information, such as the type of vehicle you own, to data companies. Public voting records, which include information about your party registration and how often you vote, can also be bought and sold for commercial purposes in some states.
The real kicker about this vacuuming up of all your personal data? It's virtually impossible to find out exactly what these data companies know about you. As Pro Publica points out, "You have the right to review and correct your credit report. But with marketing data, there's often no way to know exactly what information is attached to your name -- or whether it's accurate."
Last week Galen Gruman proposed that maybe, just maybe, users can win the privacy war. Educating consumers on the ways that companies are profiting from their data is a starting point.
I urge lawmakers to require any company that uses your personal data to provide an annual summary of how much money it made from your information. If people knew how much was made off their data, they'd demand change -- or at least a cut of the proceeds (a few startups are trying to create a service around the very concept). These companies track a lot about you, so they can easily track what they sell that value for as well.
Europe has long-standing data protection laws that limit some practices that are standard in the United States. As Reuters reports, "the European Union is now weighing updated rules that would allow any resident to ask companies to delete the information on file about them; the United States only has equivalent rights for those under age 13."
As Gruman notes, the American government is starting to wake up to the issue and take action. But he warns that "Congress is again considering the fatally flawed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) bill that would allow rampant sharing of personal data across companies in the name of security. Security fears are often used to scare people into giving up rights they shouldn't" -- that and the desire to snatch up the latest gizmo from Google without thought for the consequences for privacy.
This article, "Smile, you're on Google Glass, whether you like it or not," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.