Consumer Privacy

Consumer Privacy

For centuries, bankers used to pride themselves on being discreet and confidential about their customers' business. But today that tradition of discretion and confidentiality is breaking down, and consumers' financial privacy is in a sorry state indeed. The problem lies not just with banks, but also with insurance companies and many other corporations who gather details about the financial lives of Americans, and increasingly see those details as a valuable resource to be mined for profit.

Beyond the financial sector, telecommunications companies can (and often do) keep detailed records of their customers’ usage habits, records which they not only routinely hand over to the government on nothing more but a request letter, but also use for marketing purposes. These records can contain information about where a customer has been while carrying a mobile device, who they have contacted on that device, the content of text messages or e-mails they’ve sent, the shows they have watched, movies they have downloaded, organizations they have made donations to, websites they have visited and a whole lot more. Because consumer privacy laws are woefully behind the innovations they are supposed to regulate, telecom companies can exploit, share and sell customer information, largely at their own discretion.

The ACLU advocates for a robust updating of consumer privacy laws, a vigilant self-regulation by industry, and consumer advocacy to ensure that private, personal customer information isn’t simply spread far and wide to any company with the money to purchase it.

Additional Resources

Internet Privacy: The things we do and say online leave behind ever-growing trails of personal information. But, Americans shouldn’t have to choose between new technology and keeping their personal information private. Protections for online privacy are justified and necessary, and the government must help draw boundaries to ensure that Americans’ privacy stays intact in the Digital Age.

When Big Data Becomes a Civil Rights Problem: When personal information is used to make secret determinations, that’s a violation of privacy. When there is significant potential for racial discrimination and police abuse, that’s a civil rights problem. That’s why the ACLU has joined together with leading civil rights and media justice groups to endorse "Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data."

TAKE ACTION: Modernize Our Privacy Law! Since 1986, technology has advanced at breakneck speed while electronic privacy law remained at a standstill. The outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows the government to intercept and access a treasure trove of information about who you are, where you go, and what you do, which is being collected by cell phone providers, search engines, social networking sites, and other websites every day.

Web Tracking and Online Privacy (2011 resource):The reality is that rapid technological advances and the lack of an updated privacy law have resulted in a system where Americans are routinely and systematically tracked as they surf the internet. There is a lot of money to be made from watching what consumers do online, and what it says about who they are, and there are plenty of companies who will pay big for this information. Unfortunately, some businesses will chase those profits even when it violates consumers’ expectations of privacy.

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