Keep that Microsoft Profile Updated!

Email management is a tough thing.  I struggle with it daily, often opting to quickly hit “unsubscribe” to all emails that come into my mailbox on any given day, just out of frustration.  If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I’m one of those “Inbox Zero” types, forever striving to have nothing to address via email.

I do lots of things to avoid getting emails and other things I consider “spammy”… I scan every form I’m filling out for the “opt out” boxes.  I try hard not to have my conference badge scanned at event expos because I don’t want any extra mail.  At previous jobs, I’ve been known to have a fake phone number, complete with a voice mail message, that I used for registrations – simply so I never had to deal with cold calls.  (I don’t like voice mail either, don’t get me started.)

That being said, sometimes you DO want to be informed – particularly about events or about technologies that interest you.  My friend and colleague, Kevin Remde, just put up a great blog post about how Microsoft takes your preferences seriously – so seriously that you may have opted out of something you didn’t mean to.

So check out Kevin’s post for the “how to” and then check your Microsoft profile to ensure you are getting only the information you need and want.

All I Want For Christmas is my Credit Card

December started out with a call from my credit card company, reporting a suspected some fraudulent use of my Visa card.  After reviewing some recent charges, there was one that I did not recognize and my card was cancelled.  I have to hand it to CapitalOne – they really are on the ball when it comes to figuring out what charges are legit and which ones are not.  It’s a little bit creepy to be honest. Ah, the age of data mining.
As I was jotting down the list businesses I’ll have to contact to updated my information once my new card arrives, I starting thinking about credit card numbers.  With all the talk about the end of the IPv4 address space, I can’t help but wonder about how many possible credit card numbers are left to distribute, especially with the use of temporary cards, like Visa or AMEX gift cards and the like.
I did a quick little search and found some slightly dated information estimating that even if credit cards only had 10 digits instead of the average 16, there would still be enough numbers to give everyone currently alive on the planet a number, with extras for people being born over the next 25-30 years.  Still that doesn’t seem like all that many to me – I know that my Visa card has been reissued at least 3 times now since I’ve had it, so I might have already used my fair share.
Without spending a lot of time pondering this issue, I guess between the various credit card issuing companies and bank numbers used to create card numbers, it’s possible to have some overlap in the customer identifying portion of the card number without causing a problem. Plus, credit card technology is always evolving.  There is always news about the use of chip cards and there are companies like this one, developing totally new ways of keeping cards secure and easy to use.  A flexible, electronic card with a rewritable magnetic strip? Cool.
Meanwhile, I guess I’ll enjoy this unexpected hiatus in my holiday shopping.The economic recovery will have to manage without me for a few more days.

Data Aggregation – Don’t Panic, Just Be Aware

I received a warning from a family member via text message a few days ago, as well as saw several posts on Facebook alerting others to a new website that “has all your personal data” – www.spokeo.com.

The advice was to go to their privacy section, enter my email address and request to be removed from the listing. According to what this family member told me about the removal process, you simply provided your email address, but only two listings could be removed with any single email address. My ears perked up a bit. Really? Interesting.

So I checked out the website with a little more of a critical eye. The site is a data aggregator, pulling data from various already public data sources – the white pages, home purchase records and the like, as well as your own public postings on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

The site requires payment to get the detailed results, but the teaser items include address and phone number, an estimate of your age, marital status, race, education level, possibly a few photos, lifestyle interests and median home values/income in your neighborhood.

While somewhat creepy, none of this is a big shocker. My name, address and phone number are in the white pages. The median home value and income in my neighborhood are easily searchable on www.zillow.com. As for the more personal goodies, the site indicates that it gets a good portion of its information from public profiles on Facebook and MySpace.

The hype behind all the warnings and knee-jerk reactions to “remove your listing from the site” lead me to look around for other data aggregators and compare. If you are going to remove your name from one, don’t forget several others like:

All has some similar data, though they don’t all hit the social media space as hard as Spokeo does. All have an option to pay for more detailed information and many (especially when searching for people who are known to NOT be using social media) have incorrect data.

Ultimately, data is out there and aggregation sites will take advantage, however you really have to go to the source of the data to change what it available – rushing to knocking your name off one search site isn’t going to keep it from appearing on a new site next week. And personally, I’m not excited about providing my email address for “verification” so that can be collected up for some other unknown reason.

Like I’ve said before, it’s important to control and monitor what you put online. Google yourself. Check out some of the data available on these aggregation sites. Be critical of what you click and what you share. The Internet isn’t the safest place, but most places that are interesting have some level of risk.

Finally, don’t forget it’s also important to check your credit and lock your doors, because it’s not just the folks at www.pleaserobme.com who have the ability to figure out where you aren’t.