Friday, February 25, 2005

ChoicePoint owns you

Shifting sands in data leak (SFgate)

ChoicePoint knows quite a bit about you. If you're unlucky, you're one of the people who's identity has been stolen through the misuse ChoicePoint's data. So who are they?
...ChoicePoint, based outside Atlanta, was created in 1997 as a spin-off from Equifax, one of the leading credit-reporting agencies. Its original purpose was to analyze claims on behalf of the insurance industry.

That mission evolved and expanded as ChoicePoint went on a buying spree, acquiring about 60 other firms with businesses ranging from data collection and background checks to DNA analysis and direct marketing.

ChoicePoint is now one of the leading data brokers in the country, acting as a sort of private intelligence service for both corporate and government clients (including the FBI).

The company had about $900 million in sales last year and is believed to have more government clients than its two main rivals, LexisNexis and Acxiom.

'Any interaction where you give up personal information can create an opportunity for them to obtain it and put it in their database,' said Chris Hoofnagle, who heads the San Francisco office of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

'You get arrested, you get married, you have a child -- ChoicePoint can get copies of the records and sell it,' he said. 'If you've ever had dealings with the government, they have information about you.'

From a consumer's point of view, one of the biggest problems about ChoicePoint is that there's no way to opt out or otherwise prohibit the company from circulating your personal info.

..Jones said the company's services range from $5 overviews of new employees to in-depth profiles of individuals costing clients thousands of dollars.

...To be sure, not everything ChoicePoint does is a potential threat to consumers. For example, the company offers its vast resources free of charge when children are missing or abducted...
They're an unregulated industry and they're overdue for regulation. Interestingly even the CEO is quoted as welcoming more oversight. "Stop me before I kill again ...".

Orwell figured this kind of thing would be the provice of governments. He really didn't understand capitalism all that well.

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