Pssst: What’s your zip code?

Ever wonder why the gun-chewing cashier asks you for your zip code?

I naively assumed the store was just doing some kind of geo-survey … trying to figure out where their customers were coming from … how far they were driving to shop their store.

Silly boy.

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CNN reports that ”Every time you mindlessly give a sales clerk your zip code at checkout, you’re giving data companies and retailers the ability to track everything from your body type to your bad habits.”

Whoa, Nellie.

Here’s what’s happening   …

CNN says that your five-digit zip code is one of the key items data brokers use to link a wealth of public records to what you buy.

In most cases, your full name — obtained when you swipe a credit card — and a zip code is all that is needed to link you to the massive data bases maintained by info firms such as Acxiom and DataLogix.

“This allows them to figure out that you are the Sally Smith who lives in Butte, Mont., not the one who lives in Denver, for example.”

Once a retailer identifies you, it can track and analyze your spending behaviors and background in order to predict what you might buy next.

In the data world, this is often called predictive analysis or predictive modeling.

Then, they can figure out whether you’re getting married (or divorced), selling your home, smoke cigarettes, sending a kid off to college or about to have one.

Such information is the cornerstone of a multi-billion dollar industry that enables retailers to target consumers with advertising and coupons.

Yet, data privacy experts are concerned about the level at which consumers are being tracked without their knowledge — and what would happen if that data got into the wrong hands.

How can that happen?

Well, some retailers sell this information back to the data brokers which then sell it to other companies — including retailers, banks, credit card issuers, airlines, hotels, auto manufacturers and even Facebook — in a seemingly never-ending cycle.

“Some of these data brokers know us better than we know ourselves”.

Currently, data brokers are required by federal law to maintain the privacy of a consumer’s data only if it is used for credit, employment, insurance or housing.

Hmmm.

Seems like a hole big enough to drive a truck through …

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