Your Private Information is Worth $0.0005

Businesses are paying top dollar to learn what you do, where you live, and who you are. Is this practice out of your control?

If you had to put a price tag on your personal info, how much would you say you’re worth?

According to a 2013 Financial Times report, a person’s data isn’t worth much—advertisers are only willing to pay $0.0005 per person for general demographic information, such as age, location, or gender. This makes sense in some ways—think of the all data we post publicly every day on social media. Spend five minutes on somebody’s Facebook page, and you can learn their location, education history, hobbies, interests, and plans for the weekend all in one glance.

Data as Currency

Data has become a form of online currency for marketers, advertisers, security companies, and…well, just about everyone. General data is cheap, but the more personal it gets, the more valuable it gets. Info about medical history or prescription use bumps the price tag to $0.26 per person, for example.

Customer data is bought and sold like a commodity, and unfortunately, this is can only mean bad news for the average consumer. The more points of contact that each byte of personal data has, the more likely it is to fall into the wrong hands and end up in the pockets of cyber criminals.

Customers need to be wary of how they handle their information, but the burden isn’t entirely on them—customer data often gets released not from the users themselves but from businesses that handle private data without the right cyber security safeguards in place.

Securing Customer Data

Businesses that routinely handle customer information need to do so safely, but recent research indicates that some industries aren’t yet prepared to take on the challenge.

A survey by data security firm Guidance Software showed some troubling findings on the general state of online security. The respondents came from a variety of fields, including government firms, financial services, and IT industries. The results showed that 48 percent of respondents felt unprepared to protect sensitive information from breaches, misuse of devices, or even simple human error. Despite that nearly half of respondents showed a lack of confidence in their online security solutions, 46 percent believed that protecting sensitive data was a top priority.

Companies handling sensitive customer information must establish protocols for its management, lest they become another statistic in a growing list of public and disastrous cyber attacks.

Protecting Data

Keeping data secure isn’t easy, but businesses don’t have to break the bank with costly security solutions just to achieve basic security. Most businesses could benefit from a basic assessment of their security policies and implementing best practices.

  1. Hacker Protection

Though preventing unauthorized users from accessing data isn’t always possible, businesses can improve their odds of a breach occurring. Software and web pages should be regularly updated and patched to correct any security backdoors that hackers may exploit. Hacker-proof cybersecurity isn’t just a firewall or a basic user authentication system; security should reflect the value of the data at risk and feature multi-level restriction that becomes tighter as users get closer to accessing privileged data.

  1. Follow Established Privacy Policies

The company lawyers wrote all that legalese for a reason. Privacy protocols don’t just protect the business from legal suits; they also protect the customer. System security should be aligned with the top-level privacy policies established by IT executives, including guidelines for how users handle information during work hours, frameworks for data protection on mobile devices, and damage-control strategies for when information is lost.

  1. Use Common Sense

Above all, users in control of sensitive customer data should use common sense. It doesn’t take millions of dollars of corporate research to learn that putting data on thumb drives and taking it out of the office will increase the risk of its misappropriation. Employees need to use their heads and follow their instincts to keeping data safe.

Personal data might be big business for advertisers and online marketers, but the way this information is gathered isn’t always legitimate. Businesses in control of sensitive information need to be part of the solution rather than the problem; nothing sheds customer loyalty faster than the theft of their information. Understanding the risks of data mismanagement is the most important part of building a business that customers trust.