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By Darity Wesley

"Data is the pollution problem of the Information Age." -Bruce Schneier

April 28, 2009 (San Diego’s East County)--Just about every person delivers some form of data into the cyber-world at least once daily. We leave digital footprints with every website we visit, every tweet we Twitter, and every purchase we make either online or on the physical plane when using a credit or debit card. I had my first realization of this the first year I got my new California driver’s license with the magnetized strip on it and my first ATM card.


After a couple of weeks of considering whether I was going to a live a permanently cash- based lifestyle in order to protect my privacy, I decided that as long as I was aware that my every movement could be tracked by my electronically facilitated transactions, I would dip my toe into this new world. Besides, I like to rent cars when I travel. But that is so last century…

Now with the social networking explosion, international data production and user generated content (UGC) is way up. If data were an economic indicator, the market would be in a euphoric state right now. According to Internet World Stats, 74% of North America is connected to the Internet, up 132% since 2000. Worldwide, there are about 1.6 billion users. Think about how much information all of us generate and then consider that it is all stored in a computer memory somewhere, potentially permanently: information such as websites you have visited, or your purchase profile from the three pounds of bananas you bought with your affinity card discount at the grocery store two years ago.

The residue from this gathered data, after it outlived its usefulness, is what Schneier is referring to as “data pollution.” Just like a Styrofoam to-go box from your favorite restaurant, today’s data can transform from a valuable asset to trash in just a few heartbeats. So where does it all go and what are the long-term effects of this data pollution? Only the future will tell--and we are creating it right now.

Some of the massive quantity of data that gets moved around the cyber-world is, perhaps innocently, stolen in the name of business. When a photo or an article is posted on a website, it is protected under copyright laws. There is a lot of misunderstanding about that, particularly in the real estate industry. Additionally, personally identifiable information, which is what you give a website when you type in your email address, and any other information about yourself, needs to be protected.

This leads me to topic of online privacy. A survey conducted by TRUSTe revealed that more than 90% of the 1,000 participants called online privacy a “really” or “somewhat” important issue. Even with that being the case and very much counter-intuitively, only 15% read website privacy statements most of the time and fewer than half frequently looked to find out whether sites even had privacy statements. Hmmm…

So there are two sides to this to look at- first off as a business. Do you have a website? Do you know if it is a legal privacy risk? Check out this article and take our quick quiz to find out.

Are you honoring others’ copyrights and asking permission before passing on, using or obtaining information? And as a consumer, before you give out any personal information, be sure to read the privacy statement on the website that is asking for it. If it doesn’t have one, don’t’ give them your information and email us so we can let them know they may be violating the law. If it does have one, be sure to read it so you know what is happening with your data.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are surfing the Internet checking and fining folks who are not in compliance. This is good to know from both a business as well as personal perspective.

As always, stay aware and alert!

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. You can reach her at (619) 670-9462,, or visit her website at

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