Earlier this year in a bankruptcy deal, Radioshack sold its assets for $26.2 million dollars. Some of this was for the user data of 67 million of its customers. Initially, this included credit-card data, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and phone numbers for 117 million people, but various courts reduced access to only seven of 170 fields of data. Among these reduced fields are names, addresses, purchasing history, and email addresses.
In today’s world, such user data is well sought after by companies, and for good reason – analysis of customer behavior can allow for more affective advertising, the creation of more successful product lines, a greater understanding of customer satisfaction, and much more. As a result, the purchase and sale of such data is more commonplace than ever before, especially on the internet. This has only been spurred on by the abundance of free entertainment available on the web – websites that provide content for free must make a profit somehow and it turns out that the cliché “If you’re not paying for it, you are the product” is a reality all across the web.
For example, merely by accessing the frontpage of Buzzfeed, a user is connected to about 30 third party websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, and over a dozen sites devoted to gathering user information for advertising purposes. Ten of these websites add cookies that continue to track a user’s web browsing habits long after they navigate away from the page (and many never bother to remove them). One of these sites belongs to Lotame, a company that allows anyone to sell user data and pay for “instant access to a pool of more than three billion cookies and a billion mobile device IDs.”
Beyond this “passive” tracking of users, a huge amount of information is available through social media. On Twitter alone, it’s estimated that about 500 million tweets are sent per day (that’s 6000 every second!) and as such, the vast majority of them are never seen by anyone. With access to the “Twitter Firehose,” an expensive developer tool, you gain access to the data on every single tweet. This allows a company to scrape the internet, searching for positive or negative reactions to certain products or a recent announcement. It also lets them preempt any possible PR disasters by starting damage control early.
Realistically, smaller companies don’t need to pay for the “Twitter Firehose.” Even though Twitter’s site only gives access to as little as 1% of tweets in realtime, scraping Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media sites can provide all the consumer opinions a company could ever wish for. After all, if billions of users are willingly putting their valuable data out in the open, why not capitalize on it?
1. McCarty, Dawn. “RadioShack Sells Customer Data After Settling With States.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 20 May 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-20/radioshack-receives-approval-to-sell-name-to-standard-general;↩
2. “Bankruptcy Judge Approves Sale of RadioShack Name and Data.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 May 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/21/business/bankruptcy-judge-approves-sale-of-radioshack-name-and-data.html↩
3. “Global Third-Party Data Exchange | Lotame.” Lotame. Lotame, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.lotame.com/data-exchange/↩
4. “Twitter Usage Statistics.” – Internet Live Stats. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/↩
5. Geere, Duncan. “It’s Not Just You: 71 Percent of Tweets Are Ignored.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 11 Oct. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.wired.com/2010/10/its-not-just-you-71-percent-of-tweets-are-ignored/↩