WAFF 48 Investigates: Your Privacy for Profit? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Your Privacy for Profit?


When you start using an app, a website, buy something online, or in a store – how many of you read the company’s privacy policy closely?

Consumer experts say you may want to take a closer look. Some businesses say they “respect your privacy” and won’t sell data they’ve collected about you, but a growing number of policies now say if the company changes hands so can your information.

Realtor Chantay Bridges uses major social media apps and buys materials online to help run her business.

“I use the sites quite frequently,” said Bridges.

But what she didn’t realize, until we showed her, is some of those companies now have clauses like this in their privacy policies.

In this case: “New Owner” – “We May Transfer Your Information",  experts say that means if the business is sold, then data collected about you goes too! Insiders say a growing number of companies now have similar disclosures. Some policies even say your information may be shared with a potential new owner during sales negotiations.  

“Everybody listening to this needs to be sure when they go online and they check that box for privacy information, then they need to read the fine print,” said Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel.

They say the devil is in the details and the fine print. In this case, that’s the data goldmine because some companies collect information about millions of customers. Experts say it’s everything from your name, birthdate, address, email, phone number, your purchase history and more. All that can be pretty valuable in a sale.

“If they’re going to sell their company, then that information could be the main product they have, what they have to sell. That’s very important,” said McDaniel. “If you don’t read the privacy policy and you don’t understand that, that information can be sold to another company.”

When a business goes bankrupt your data can also be at risk of being sold.  The Federal Trade Commission fought to protect consumer privacy in recent high profile cases to make sure companies were fair to customers.

“Even if a company goes bankrupt, they still need to honor that privacy policy or a regulator like the Federal Trade Commission can step in and say, ‘Wait just a second, if you promise people you would never sell or share the data then you have to live up to that promise,’” said Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

Do companies have to notify you if your data is transferred? That answer is also right in the privacy policy.

“It’s really going to depend on that company policy at the time they collected your information,” said Dixon.

Chantay says from now on she’s not going to just gloss over privacy policies, but will look to see what happens to her data if a company changes hands.

“We take a look at stuff, but we don’t always dig a little deeper and we probably need to look at that a little closer,” said Bridges.

When a business is sold, the new company should alert you to any new privacy policy change concerning your data. Remember, if you feel uncomfortable with a company’s privacy policy, you can always contact them and tell them you want to “opt out” from them collect your data.

In turn, that may mean you can’t use the services anymore, too.

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