Do companies know how bad data collection is?

James Grieco
James Grieco
Feb 24, 2023
min read
Do companies know how bad data collection is?

The average American spends nearly seven hours a day in front of a screen, and even countries with some of the lowest totals still tally over four hours daily. Online shopping has grown year over year in virtually every industry, and is almost assuredly set to top $1 Trillion in annual revenue in the next few years. 

No matter how hard individuals or businesses try, companies will inevitably end up collecting terabytes worth of data from its customers. Whether you’re shopping online, job hunting, browsing social media, or downloading applications, there’s no way to hide or avoid that fact. 

As someone under the age of 30 who lived in Europe when the GDPR was implemented and has previously worked in data privacy and protection, I know this better than most. The tagline “data is the new oil” is true, even if it became cliched almost immediately. 

That’s why I—and millions of others like me—have worked vigilantly to keep my personal information safe and only provide it to companies when I absolutely had to. With the release of Apple’s new privacy policy features in 2021, I’ve become the Usain Bolt of hitting “Ask app not to share” (even if some question the feature’s authenticity). 

And yet, from talking with people, I knew the biggest data privacy challenge lay ahead of me: buying a home in the U.S. 

After hearing from dozens of people who purchased homes over the past few years and would complain of the endless wake of spam emails and letters in the months following the purchase, I set out to test just how bad it would be. 

I used Mine’s consumer offering for people to find and reclaim their digital footprint. Before being hired by Mine, I recognized the company from one of the more successful and witty of Youtube’s skippable pre-video ad rolls. Considering my newfound familiarity with the product, it proved an easy and quantifiable way of tracking the change. 

Before I started the process by signing up for any of the real estate websites or mortgage services, I made an account on Mine’s B2C side and had them scan my digital footprint (part of which includes Mine scanning your email metadata, such as senders and subject lines). The median individual has about 320 organizations holding their data. 

My digital footprint clocked in at 203 organizations, with some dating back a decade ago to 2012. All in all, not terrible, given the typical distribution. 

I fought the urge to track the change daily as I went about the two-pronged process of finding the right home and the right mortgage lender, only logging back in and looking at a rescan after the process closed and I had officially become a homeowner and the mortgage account had been processed. Upon a rescan, barely over three months later, 343 companies held my data.

Again, in 93 days, my data went from being in the hands of 203 organizations to 343, an increase of more than a company a day! Even undergoing such a significant life event, one that requires you to dispense your personal information to numerous companies, there was no way that I had received emails from 140 new companies over the prior three months.  

While my next steps will involve trying to get extraneous companies to delete the data they hold on me, that is a waiting game that proves how slanted data privacy is treated in the U.S. Individuals, the ones who need protecting, the ones who’ve been unknowingly monetized by corporations big and small, need to go clean up the data mess those same companies have made. 

Seeing the numbers for myself, I am left with two possible conclusions: 

  1. Some companies are still gathering and selling your data on purpose
  2. Companies do not understand the full scope of the data they gather and process

During the three-month course of my homebuying journey, I signed up for three mortgage lenders to compare rates, a single real estate agency, two real estate websites to monitor the market, one insurance company, and the title company recommended by the real estate agency. Despite that tally of eight organizations, my data wound up in the hands of 140 companies over the process.

For everyone’s sake, let’s assume option A is not true on a widespread scale, considering data privacy regulations have aimed to stop that kind of malicious practice. 

If option B is true, given my own experience, then companies need proper data privacy solutions immediately, given the rampant amount of individual’s data they process, especially as some data comes to them indirectly. 

Data collection is still out of control, and if companies fail to address it for much longer, a sliding doors moment may be imminent. The burden to create a free and safe internet should not rest on people, but rather the companies that have sought to commoditize it. 

Data privacy solutions exist—good ones, too—but companies need to adopt and implement them faster and more fervently to regain consumer trust, because the next guy to buy a house shouldn’t have their data spread to companies across every corner of the internet.