The Spies We Buy

Andrew Bustamante | July 11, 2019

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Greetings Everyday Spy,

Every spy has one simple mission: collect valuable information.

CIA taught me how to find, collect, and use information that others did not want me to have.

     Information is power. 

     Information is leverage. 

     Information separates those who win from those who lose. 

Some information gets protected by countries and corporations. There are laws and institutions in place that ensure this information is only shared with those few who ‘need to know.’ 

And when lives are on the line, information can be both our greatest ally and our greatest weakness.

Information is the most valuable commodity in the modern world.

It allows world leaders to win negotiations. It allows soldiers to win battles. It allows law enforcement officers to find bad guys, lock them up, and keep our society safe.

And while all information is useful, only one kind of information is king…

Personal information.

Cyber criminals have known the value of your personal information for a long time.

We hear news reports about identity theft, data breaches, and leaked account information every week. Just this week, Brittish Airways was issued a $227 million fine after a hacker stole personal information on 300,000 airline customers.

People tell scary stories about the famed ‘Dark Web,’ a secret internet where our most precious data is traded among thieves and scoundrels. 

Here is a peek at what your personal data is worth on the ‘Dark Web’:

  • Social Security Number: $1.00
  • Complete Drivers License: $20.00
  • Full Credit Card details: $75.00

The average person’s most personal data is worth about $96.00 online. Even less if a Dark Web client buys your data in bulk! 

It can be hard to believe that our lives boil down to a digital package that sells for just under $100 online.

It is even more upsetting to think that it can be taken from us and sold without our permission.

But the world of cyber crime is only a small piece of the personal information market. It’s the piece we all know about.

The real value of your personal information is still kept secret…

The information gathered through personal devices is worth $76 billion a year in 2019 and projected to reach $200 billion a year by 2022.

Information is the new oil, driving a commercial industry that nearly doubles in size every year.

The real value of data isn’t in your SSN, bank account, drivers license or passport number. It’s in your daily decisions.

Big business knows that the more they know about your everyday choices, the more money they can make from you. By knowing your daily movements, preferences, and peers, businesses can control what you see, hear, and experience.

But in order to control your choices, businesses first need to know your decisions. 

And that takes spying, a business I know well. And business is good.

Big Tech companies make more than 50% of their annual revenue by collecting and selling your personal data.

Known as ‘surveillance capitalism,’ your digital information is considered by law to be a free raw material. Just like gold, coal, or diamonds, anyone who can collect your information has the right to use it, refine it, or sell it.

There are 5 big tech companies in the US actively mining (and lobbying to continue mining) your personal data: 

  1. Google
  2. Amazon
  3. Facebook
  4. Microsoft
  5. Verizon

But wait… isn’t Verizon the leading mobile communication company in the US? Isn’t Amazon the most valuable retail company in 2019? Isn’t Microsoft the top grossing software company of all time?

Yes – they are. And until today, you may not have realized that more than half of the money they earn does not come from a product they make. It comes from selling, trading, and using your personal data.

Your personal information fuels a massive economic engine.

     An engine worth more than the NFL and NBA combined;

     An engine bigger than the entire US alcohol industry;

      An engine scheduled to surpass the value of all US Agricultural output by 2022.

Your devices spy on you every day in order to collect valuable personal information.

The raw data collected from an average user can earn a company up to $183/year. Data that gets refined and packaged gains even more value, often exceeding $300/year per user.

     You are the apps that you use

The most active personal data collection tools are the applications on your phone, tablet, smart TV, and laptop. Working in tandem with these apps are your online subscriptions and digital portals. 

These tools obviously collect your email, usernames, passwords, credit card details, and similar ‘dark web’ type data. But the bigger commercial value comes from what they collect about your interests, likes and dislikes, marital status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, health status, religion, friendships, income, debts, political views, education, intelligence level, gender, age, and personal network.

      You are where you go

The fact that your cell phone transmits your location is well known. Cell towers can triangulate your exact location in real time at all times. But more valuable than where you are is where you’ve been.

You phone, vehicle navigation, smart watch and laptop wifi store detailed records of where you go. They upload this history to servers around the world along with time, date, route and other environmental details. These records paint a picture of your travel preferences, driving patterns, risk tolerance, obedience to the law, favorite venues, important places, preferred shopping areas, and more. 

      You are your hands, fingers, face, and voice

It is convenient to unlock your phone with a thumbprint, a verbal phrase, or a passing glance. But when you unlock these features, you also give the phone permission to openly record everything going on around you.

When you click the ‘allow’ button to enable a new function, you give control of that function to the business that created it. Alexa needs to hear you when you call, so she is always listening. Not just to you, but to every voice she hears. You phone needs to recognize your face, so the camera is always on. It sees the faces of those around you, your home, your office layout, your car car, and all the different ways that you carry it around. 

Every click, fumble, swipe and button press is a piece of data that contributes to a resource mine businesses want to tap.

But you can protect your personal data and deny companies the right to mine your personal data.

Start taking back control of your personal data right now with these simple steps:

  1. Deny permissions that are not relevant to the app you are using. Your fitness app does not need access to your outbound calls. Your LinkedIn app does not need access to your contact list.
  2. Link your favorite mapping app to a new email account that you do not use. There is no reason to use one account for multiple services. Doing so increases the accuracy and resale value of your personal information, making you more of a target.
  3. Turn off any voice or face recognition options to unlock your phone. A four-digit pin or password is simple, secure, and private. Your phone’s microphone and camera are yours to control.
  4. Leave Verizon service as fast as you can. You already know how terrible it is to do everyday business with them. Now you know keep nothing private. Here is your excuse to leave.  

Spies know the value of information – especially information collected in secret.

Remember that technology is here to serve you, not the other way around.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy

Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.

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