When a Company Gets Sold, So Does Your Data

When you subscribe to an online service, be careful of how much information you give out about yourself.

1PMost businesses in their terms and conditions, say they “respect your privacy.” But what if these companies go under or are sold? An article from the online New York Times explores this concept. Today’s market-data-hungry-businesses can gather lots of data about subscribers. This data can be transferred to third parties in the event the company is sold or goes belly up.

The New York Times recently analyzed the top 100 U.S. websites, and the revelation is that it’s par for the course for companies to state that subscribers’ data could be transferred as part of a sales or bankruptcy transaction. Companies like this include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon and Apple.

On one hand, such companies assure consumers that privacy is important. Next second they’re telling you your data will get into third-party hands if they sell out or fizzle out.

A real-life example is the True.com Texas dating site that attempted to sell its customer database to another dating site. However, True.com’s privacy policy assured members that their personal details would never be sold without their permission. Texas law stopped the attempt.

The Times article points out that at least 17 of the top 100 said they’d notify customers of a data transfer, while only a handful promised an opt-out choice.

This isn’t as benign as some might think. For example, WhatsApp was sold to Facebook. A user of both services ultimately complained that Facebook, without his consent, accessed his WhatsApp contact list, even though his Facebook account was set to prevent people outside his network from obtaining his phone number.

Another example is Toysmart.com. When it went bankrupt, it tried to sell customer data, which included birthdates and names of children. The company’s privacy policy, however, promised users that this information would never be shared.

To avoid fracases, companies are now jumping on the bandwagon of stating they have the right to share customer/subscriber data with third parties per business transactions.

Don’t be surprised if you read something like: “We value your privacy,” and in another section of the privacy policy, “Upon sale of our company, your personal information may be sold.”

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.