Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

Michael Q Todd is a Social Media Expert


The world is full of self proclaimed social media experts, many of them legends in their own minds. Every once in a while you come across someone who not only really does understand how it all works, but one that practices what they preach. 

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

One such person is Michael Q Todd. I had the pleasure last week of meeting him in person in Auckland and attending one of his seminars which was a pre-launch of his upcoming book The 7 Pillars of Your Online Success. Michael is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Japan with his lovely wife Dr Yoriko Todd.

The mix of attendees ranged from total beginners to very experienced people including Sean Mitchell of Techday, Jason Kemp of Dialog Ventures, Mark Thomas of 2Review and Roger Bennett, one of New Zealand’s serial networkers and connectors, all people who are very passionate about what they do. You have to be, to go to a 3 hour seminar on a weekday evening. There was a quality of debate, illustrating that one size doesn’t fit all and Michael managed the proceedings like the pro that he is.

I’m not going to tell you about everything he covered, it was an introduction to the new book and one that I am very much looking to receive an advanced copy on. I’ve read a couple of pre-released chapters and they are winners. You may be very good with one application or aspects of an application, but be missing out on others. Another is that this is a changing environment. Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are constantly adding and modifying features, you need to keep abreast of these. New services like Vine, Empire Ave (one of my current favorites, you’ll find my account here)  and Posse  are popping up all the time. Some of these will be valuable to you. Never assume you are up to date, because you will be wrong. If you don’t keep up to date, you could end up like this moth (not for the squeemish) I captured on my second Vine attempt, being devoured by a praying mantis.

This is one of the reasons I really like

Following are a 3 key takeouts for me:

1. It’s about selling. Anything you do is social media has to have a purpose, an end game. It is usually to sell something. It could be the products or services you provide to customers, it could be selling your consultancy, or perhaps promoting your sporting activity, music or hobbies. Start with the end game in mind.

2. Three things that brand you. People get confused when you tell them you do lots of different things. Define the 3 most important things, based  on (1) above. Give this some serious thought. If you have too much going on, narrow your focus or you will confuse people and won’t sell much of anything. For me, I am

3. Plug the gaps. One for me is Lists. I used to have a very successful newsletter many years ago which I sold as part of my consultancy and training school, the New Zealand Smartphone and PDA Academy. It had a large following and I really enjoyed the feedback from readers. Lately I thought that social media had replaced email newsletters, but now realize that they add another dimension. What are your gaps?

Once in a rare while you meet someone who will make a profound and positive difference in your life if you let them. I have had a few of those over my years and I believe that Michael Q Todd is going to be one of those. Whatever business you are in, or want to be in, whatever role you currently play in life, you are a brand and Michael can help teach you how to focus and market that brand and to reach the results you desire. You can find out more about him on his website.

I’ll leave the last word to Michael from one of his many YouTube Videos

Farmville and the new Virtual Economy


The computer gaming industry is of course massive and simulation games have been popular for a long time. Traditionally though, game makers made their money by selling games and upgrades for games. The SIMS being one of the best examples. I must admit to having enjoyed some of their games in the past, especially the classic Sim City.

Zynga has taken this to a whole new level of success with Farmville, a sim game which has become incredibly popular on Facebook. People pay real money to buy virtual tractors and other items in the game. This has now gone to such an extreme that Tesco is now about to start to sell real money vouchers in their stores.

In About Us on Zynga, they emphasize that their games are free, which is totally true, but there are elements in many of their games where you pay money to buy virtual things, or for example in the poker game, to buy back in to the weekly tournament if you lose your chips.

This adds an amazing dimension to this free game business. According to industry experts, as reported on Rev2.org, Zynga could be worth as much as US$5 Billion, which they predict could double in the next 5 years. Seems the concept of free and internet based games may have some commercial merit:)



Your Ashes on Record


I’ve lost friends and a family member recently which has led me to think about what I would want to do with my ashes. We don’t often face our mortality and a number of topics have come up recently. For example, what happens to your social networking and web presence when you die. One solution I discussed in a previous blog was Legacy Locker, who can provide access  to your records to anyone you want to access them. Do think about the consequences of this though, especially who you provide access to.

Another topic that I have pondered on is my funeral. No I’m not planning to die anytime soon. Hopefully I have at least another 40 years on this planet. But I would like to have control over at the very least, the music that is played. I have a few tracks in mind, like Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, which I love. I’d also like to have at least one of my own songs that I have recorded, but I am hoping that my best work is yet to come, so that may change.

I definitely plan to be cremated. I hate the idea of worms crawling through my bones. So what to do with my ashes. Well I think I’ve found the perfect solution. A company called Add Vinyly will press your ashes into 30 records containing 24 minutes of any audio content you want. Now you can not only have control of what’s played at your funeral, but you can be a physical part of the performance and any of your friends who want to can have a piece of you so to speak.

What do you reckon?