Personal data is quickly becoming a commodity in today's high technology world. This information is used by banks, investment and brokerage companies, credit card merchants, government agencies (local, state and federal), and consumer product-based companies. Most people probably don't realize the amount of information that's shared between companies, or how often it's done. Many companies sell and share customer data to help sell products and find out what new products they should produce. Other uses include gathering information about inventory levels to help better determine what types of products are bought at which store, when and how often. This can be used for inventory and production, to make sure that the store (or stores for chains, like Safeway and Long's Drugs) can have the products available when they're needed.
However, the same personal data is being compromised and eroding privacy. Companies have been getting bolder in their attempts to gather, share and sell data. The latest trend is outsourcing data to third party companies for data processing, which can be done at a lower cost. One of the main problems with this approach is that a lot of very sensitive data is being sent, which could be harmful in the wrong hands. Most companies require their customers to "opt-out" to prevent their data from being shared with a company's affiliates. This process requires the customer to explicitly tell the company not to share their data, which is usually in the form of a web site or a survey sent in the mail. These surveys are often thrown away by consumers, so they don't even realize that they're giving the companies a green light to sell and share their data.
There's a new movement starting to grow, whe...
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...nstitution Policy Brief #29, February 1998.
 Simon Davie,"Europe to U.S.: No privacy, no trade", Wired - Issue 6.05. May, 1998
 Swedish Personal Register Law, recent changes
 Declan McCullagh, "US Twitchy on EU Data Privacy", Wired News, October 16, 1998
Suggested Online resources
Privacy International - http://www.privacyinternational.org/
Internet Privacy - http://www.netatty.com/privacy/
US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (HIPAA) - http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/
Electronic Privacy Information Center - http://www.epic.org/
Privacy 2000 - http://www.privacy2000.org/
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