Your information – what’s it worth?

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South of the border, Sony Music recently settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after the FTC filed a suit against Sony claiming the company had violated children’s privacy rights.

Last Wednesday, the FTC accused Sony of being in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by collecting, maintaining and disclosing personal information of children under the age of 13 without parental consent.

The FTC estimates that Sony collected the personal information of about 30,000 children on 196 websites operated by Sony Music. That includes names, addresses, mobile phone numbers, e-mail addresses, dates of birth, ZIP codes, usernames and gender. But that’s not all:

“Many of these sites also enable children to create personal fan pages, review artists’ albums, upload photos or videos, post comments on message boards and in online forums, and engage in private messaging.”

The following day, Sony and the FTC announced the suit had been settled, with the company agreeing to pay a fine of $1 million, put in place a screening process that complies with the FTC rules and hire a Web compliance officer to monitor the issue. The fine is reportedly the largest settlement for a case involving COPPA, which came into effect in 2000.

One way (and a fairly simplistic way at that) to view this settlement is that it works out to about $33 for each child’s information.

But these kids – and the rest of Sony’s website visitors – may see the value of their information in another way. A recent study by IBM found that people – and especially younger people – were willing to trade away their information for incentives like free high quality music or videos, discounts to favourite stores and air travel or hotel points:

“Close to 60 percent of total respondents were willing to provide information about themselves — such as age, gender, lifestyle or communications preferences — in exchange for something of value. Younger respondents had fewer concerns about revealing personal preferences, and a sizeable portion of participants over the age of 45 were also willing to share information about themselves. However, all respondents indicated the need for perceived value and incentives as a trade-off to provide personal information.”

And finally – what’s your information worth on the black market?

Cybercrime is big business – now reportedly even bigger than the international drug trade. In this world, credit card information can be bought and sold for as little as $1, and entire identities can be purchased for $5.

So how much is your information worth? As much as you care to protect it.

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