Recently by Bill Rounds: Privacy Equation
WHAT ARE TRANSACTIONAL DATABASES?
A transactional database is where a database transaction might consist of one or more data-manipulation statements and queries, each reading and/or writing information in the database. These transactional databases can data mine and manipulate tremendous amounts of information about our personal lives, habits and transactions.
What Is Gathered/Who Is Gathering?
Most people are aware of the large amounts of consumer and individual information that is being data mined by businesses and retailers. Shopper cards, gym memberships, Amazon account activity, credit card purchases, and many other mundane transactions are routinely recorded, indexed and stored in transactional databases. Even banking transactions in almost all countries around the world are recorded in special databases, eroding bank privacy.
If you are not paying in cash then the information from the purchase along with your identity is probably being stored on one or more transactional databases somewhere in the data mining cloud. Even if you are paying in cash, if you are using some kind of club card that identifies you as the customer, the information is still being collected. You may not even know that your information is being collected through data mining.
Big Deal About Transactional Databases
So what if someone knows what kind of salsa you buy at the grocery store? Who cares if my credit card company keeps track of every expense? I do not do anything remotely scandalous or illegal, so what, me worry?
Protect Your Privacy: ... Best Price: $4.29 Buy New $113.27 (as of 03:45 EDT - Details) Risks From Transactional Databases
There are several risks to having your activity data mined like this. I will only focus on a narrow area. Many entities are in the business of managing risks. For example, health insurers take on the risk that their insureds will not get sick, employers take on the risk of the continued performance of their employees. These kinds of entities must trade off the cost of gathering information with the value of the information in assessing the risks associated with the transaction and make the best business decision. Historically, the cost of gathering some information was simply too high to include in the calculation of risk, so these companies chose to transact without the information. They did not have the powerful tools known as transactional databases. Also, governments may rely on the information in transactional databases to tax you for activities that you engaged in while on vacation outside of the tax free state where you actually live.
For example, to determine the health of a potential insured, an insurer does not need the private health records of the person. They simply would have had to follow around the candidate and see what they ate and generally assess their lifestyle. They could then use that information to calculate risk. They do not have a right to this information, and you do not have to disclose it, but they may choose to gather this information themselves if it is done in public.
Modern Data Mining Environment With Transactional Databases
The cost to investigate and gather information on the risk of a transaction has been reduced dramatically with the maintenance of transactional databases linked to the identity of transacting parties. The lifestyle reflected in your spending habits can tell them all they want to know without hiring an expensive investigator or violating health privacy laws. The cost of your premiums could be significantly increased if it is discovered that you eat cholesterol sticks for dinner with a delicious dessert of artery clog cakes. Insurance premiums might also increase if you enjoy skydiving, paragliding, rock climbing, scuba diving or some of the other activities that make life worth living.
In both cases the increased information for your counter-party in the negotiation could lead to increased costs for you. These kinds of transactions are a negotiation. The more information that either party can gather then the stronger their position will be. Few transactions are done with full information by both parties and so for much of the information available there is no reason to voluntarily disclose it. But transactional databases greatly decreases the costs of storing and retrieving this type of data.
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There are some laws regarding the disclosure of health and other private information. But the legal protection of privacy regarding the disclosure of grocery shopping habits and other things for example is slim to none in the US. Therefore, you are at the mercy of the self imposed privacy policies of the individual companies you deal with along with your ability to stay out of those transactional databases in the first place.
Given the fact that these privacy policies almost always allow for sharing of information with “affiliates” and, because the standards for becoming an “affiliate” are usually extremely low, therefore there is a serious need to keep the information from being available from even “affiliates.” It is theoretically easy for the mega-conglomerate insurance companies to become an “affifliate” of a multi-national, mega insurance company. If you deal with any business like that then your personal data is at risk of being catalogued in transactional databases and sold to the highest bidder.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself From Transactional Databases
Do not use shopper cards. If you do, use a friend or family member’s card. If possible use a pseudonym and ghost address to set up your friend or family member’s card. Use cash to pay for items whenever possible and especially when the expense reveals your lifestyle or habits. Think twice before disclosing any information in exchange for goods or services even if it seems harmless because your personal data may end up in some transactional databases.
Following these, and other tips discussed in the book How To Vanish, the Bank Privacy Report, and Tax Domicile will keep you less vulnerable to unwanted disclosures of information that could become, at the very least, an economic annoyance for you. And you never know how long this personal data will be kept in these nebulous transactional databases.
Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.
December 23, 2010