Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Who Controls Personal Data?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Back in the Day, my favorite Latin quote was an example of the Ablative Absolute: “Eo Imperium Tenente, Eventum Timeo.” Loosely translated, this means, “Because he holds the power, I fear the outcome.”

In some ways, fear and uncertainty exist today since, in many cases, people don’t understand, or even know, who has the “power” over how their personal data are used.

Power in this sense can be defined several ways:

  • The power to create and manage personal data
  • The power to refuse (certain types of users) access to personal data
  • The power to demand payment for use of personal data

Several different types of organizations have varying degrees of these different types of power:

  • Merchants and vendors who collect personal data as part of customer care or affinity programs that track purchasing and service requirement behavior over time (e.g., supermarkets, airlines, rental car companies, appliance manufacturers, etc.)
  • Data services companies that buy and sell access to consumer credit data, health care history, insurance coverage data, and other data that are used as the basis for pricing and selling decisions by themselves or other companies (e.g., credit reporting companies, private check cashing approval companies, etc.)
  • Web based search engine and online vendors who collect and track personal data and relate it to purchasing behavior, email contents, and ultimately, advertising (e.g., Google, Yahoo, etc.)
  • Government agencies who make certain types of personal data openly available manually or online (e.g., vehicle registration, drivers’ licenses, liquor licenses, etc.)
  • Government agencies that regulates certain aspects of how personal data are used
  • Information publishing companies that create and sell specialized data on personal, household, and neighborhood characteristics (including vendors of specialized mailing and contact lists)
  • Companies that create and manage web based advertising services linked to user behavior
  • Professional, trade, and special interest organizations that represent the interests of these different groups

This list represents a wide variety of types of organizations. I wonder how easy it will be to get them to cooperate in managing the exchange of personal information?

Copyright (c) 2005 by Dennis D. McDonald


Dissection of a Life Insurance Company's "Privacy Policy" Letter

What is "Personal Data?"

What is "Personal Data?"