WHY WE (AS CONSUMERS) ALL NEED TO UNDERSTAND, VALUE, AND
PROTECT OUR PERSONAL INFORMATION AND DIGITAL ASSETS
I was in a business meeting at a mall recently (which is
about the only reason I would go to a mall) and I stopped by a store on the way
out to buy a small item. I pulled out a
$20 bill to pay for it and the young person behind the counter looked at it
like it was something she had never seen before and then as she was taking it,
she looked at her computer screen and started to ask me for information,
starting with my e mail address. I
politely asked her if I would get a discount if I gave her my personal
information that her computer was telling her to ask me for. She said no.
Then I asked her if I would be allowed to purchase the item even if I
declined to give her my personal information.
She then chuckled and smiled and said yes and got my point and I was out
the door without giving her my name, rank, and serial number. This is the mentality I believe all consumers
should have whether dealing with a retail outlet or a professional advisor or
anyone else. Be polite, give the
information you need for the service or product you need, but don’t give out
more than is required unless you are truly being paid fairly for what you are
sharing with any business or salesperson.
I tell this story because it is the story of big
business/corporate America conning the consuming public out of assets that
belong to us. Specifically, retail
stores, credit card companies, social media companies, creators of Apps and
others have been systematically and often deceptively getting us (ie the
consuming public) to give them our personal information in exchange for very
little and sometimes nothing. Then, the
same companies have directly or indirectly made a fortune selling or using your
personal information. And, when your
personal information that they have gathered is misused by them or those they
sell it to, or it is stolen through a data breach, they do virtually nothing to
Should our concern for privacy protection all matter? I believe, in a decade, we will look back on
what I just described above and conclude that corporate America effectively
conned Americans out of billions of dollars of assets (personal information in
digital form) for virtually no compensation while simultaneously allowing cyber
criminals to steal your information from them without compensating you for
their negligence in allowing that to occur.
As a result, we believe you should immediately start treating you and,
more importantly your children’s and grandchildren’s personal information and
digital assets as something that is of significant value and should not be
loaned out to any corporation who casually asks for it so that they can profit
If you agree with me, then the next question is to better
define what we are talking about protecting.
In my mind, what I am talking about protecting, is you and your families
“Digital Assets” and “Personal Data”.
And, as with much in the cutting edge of the technology world, you need
to define terms before discussing and advising on them.
The term “Digital Asset” is an evolving term, but it
typically refers to what we think of as information that: 1. Exists on a computer
(i.e. assets that exist in a binary format); and is also that is what I refer
to as proprietary (i.e. comes with a right to use). Although as a technical matter, your
“Personal Information” AKA Personally Identifiable Information” or “PII” AKA
“personal data” that directly or indirectly identifies you (e.g. Social
Security number, Passport number, Driver’s License number, or other information
that can be used to identify you) are separate from your “Digital Assets”, I recommend to clients that we conceptually
think of them as one group of assets that we should protect
comprehensively. And, for consumer
protection purposes, I define both digital assets/personal information broadly
to include encrypted/pseudonymized information, collections of things such as
IP addresses/cookies/device IDs/location data/online identifiers/identification
numbers or names or passwords/genetic or biometric data, and any other
information that can be used relating to your physical, physiological, mental,
economic, cultural, or social identity.
Chris Vernon is a founding member of both Griffon Force and Vernon Litigation Group. Vernon litigation is a Naples, Florida based law firm that has been representing clients throughout the United States for decades. Through both Griffon Force and Vernon Litigation Group, Vernon assists clients impacted by wire fraud and ransomware as well as other data breaches and cyberattacks. And, as part of his service to the community, Vernon is also a member of the Collier Identity Theft Task Force in Collier County and proactively speaks regularly to businesses and individuals on how to avoid frauds, scams, identity theft and other cybercrimes.