How to buy shirt, sell personal data with single swipe of credit card

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I recently bought a golf shirt. At $9.99, I thought it was a great buy.

Three weeks later, I feel like I’m still paying for it.

I used by debit card to pay for the shirt and a toy for my 6-year-old grandson. Since then, I’ve been inundated with at least 10 advertisements a day on my Facebook page for golf shirts. Although I haven’t clicked onto any of those ads, they continue.

We’re currently doing a series how technology has changed the way criminals and law enforcement do their jobs. Between cell phones, cameras, social media and, apparently, golf shirts, we know someone is always watching.

Banks and department stores aren’t only peeking, they’re stealing my information and selling it to the highest bidder. Spy on somebody with binoculars and you’re deemed a deviant. Do it with a computer and it’s perfectly legal.

Want more proof?

Go online and shop for car insurance. Even if you only search one company, you’ll be overwhelmed by other companies calling and writing.

I searched online for a low-carb recipe last month. Since then, I’ve had a daily diet of weight-loss ads sent to my social media pages and email.

Companies that buy and sell third-party personal data operate in quiet back rooms without a lot of rules. It’s time for that to change.

Vermont now requires data brokers to register with the secretary of state. The law seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t require companies that pirate and sell your information to disclose who’s in their database, and it doesn’t allow customers to see what’s been collected. In short, your personal information belongs to them, not you.

We have no legal right to know what’s being collected, how it’s being used or who is buying it. And it’s only getting worse.

Facebook was forced to admit a few months ago that it’s collected so much information, it’s lost tract of the many ways it surveils all of us.

These companies collect names, addresses and your favorite Internet sites, only to be sold to other companies that want to push their products, like golf shirts, on an unsuspecting and unwilling public.

We should be concerned data brokers are pickpocketing our personal information; we should be outraged how it’s being used.

“Because there are no online privacy laws in the United States, there’s no stop sign, there’s no go slow sign, there’s no crossing guard. The message is anything goes,” Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy told NPR.

The only way to protect yourself is to opt out of sharing your information, but that requires you pouring through the fine print of each web site. Ad blockers can be helpful, but it means you’re adding your name – and information – to their list. I know that sounds suspicious, but who would have thought buying a golf shirt would make me so assessable to companies that pass my information around like a bowl of Thanksgiving gravy.

My cell phone service got spotty two months before my contract expired. I constantly had dead-air spots that lasted several seconds during each call.

At the same time, my cell phone company started sending me text messages reminding me by contract was up and I needed a new phone. It’s hard to believe it’s not a coincidence.

Now that I’ve said that, now it’s going to be interesting if I start getting cell phone ads on Facebook.

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