In the Real World Anonymous Data Is Not So Anonymous

An unfortunate cause of New York bankruptcy cases is identity theft. If a thief gets a hold of a consumer’s personal financial information he or she can easily open false accounts in that consumer’s name and run up substantial charges. Medical identity theft is also a possibility. Consumers can reverse many of these activities, but it takes time, and it might not be possible to do so before other bills become due, leading to bankruptcy. A crucial step to preventing this from happening is for consumers to protect their personal financial information, but as the Equifax breach demonstrated, it increasingly falls to third parties to safeguard people’s information—third parties that may not have much of an incentive to do so, unlike the government. If that wasn’t enough, a recent article in U.K. publication The Guardian recently shows that it’s quite easy to de-anonymize large datasets of personal information. How serious is this, and what can debtors do about it?

According to the article, there are a handful of unvarying markers people use that can essentially identify them without much effort. A pertinent list includes: dates of birth, genders, and ZIP codes. Although statistically it’s quite common for a small group of people to share the same birthdate, the year, gender, and location of any one person makes it all but certain who that individual is, often based on voter registration data or other public databases that combine all these pieces of information.

The potential to successfully identify individuals out of anonymous datasets is quite high. In one study, 87 percent of the U.S. population could be identified with the information listed above. More disturbingly, allegedly anonymous medical records showing patients’ operation dates could also be combined with other public datasets to identify the patients.

The same can be said of geolocation data on mobile phones. Combined with credit-card purchases, researchers can fairly confidently identify people based on their commutes to and from work, their regular spending patterns, and the applications they use.

The article laments that consumers don’t have many options for staying truly anonymous. Using only cash or checks for transactions or abandoning mobile phones are not practical options. They also don’t address the de-anonymizing efforts based on the handful of personal characteristics listed above: birthdate, gender, and ZIP code. Rather, it recommends government and private-sector sources limit researchers’ capacity to duplicate datasets for themselves.

The Guardian article is here.

The truth of the matter is that there’s really no way to perfectly protect your data from anyone. Cautious is warranted, but at least the situations described in the article indicate that the types of information one can glean from a database aren’t the kind that can be used to commit serious identity theft. However, that means information such as Social Security numbers should be given out very rarely because so much else is already available.

If you have suffered identity theft, and it’s affected your ability to repay your debts, then talking to an experienced New York bankruptcy lawyer can help you assess your options.

For answers to more questions about bankruptcy, the automatic stay, effective strategies for dealing with foreclosure, and protecting your assets in bankruptcy please feel free to contact experienced bankruptcy attorney Brooklyn NY Bruce Weiner for a free initial consultation.

Rosenberg, Musso & Weiner, L.L.P
26 Court St # 2211
Brooklyn, NY 11242, USA
718-855-6840
http://nybankruptcy.net/
https://plus.google.com/118376380896545513115

Recent Posts

12 Ways to Deal With Parent PLUS Loans

Federal Parent PLUS loans are among the most confusing student loans that New York bankruptcy debtors owe. They aren’t like other government student loans because they’re made to the parent (obviously) of the student rather than the student himself or herself. This can lead to difficulties when parents realize they must pay for debts they

Read More »

If I Get Married Will I Owe My Spouse’s Debts?

Debt can cause serious concerns for romantic couples. One question that can create anxiety in one partner is whether getting married will make him or her liable for his or her partner’s debts. Given that it’s not uncommon for many couples to have unequal debts, assets, and incomes, it’s a topic that comes up frequently.

Read More »

Who Were Chapter 13 New York Bankruptcy Debtors in 2017?

2017 is pretty far in the rearview mirror, but it’s still the most recent year for which the federal courts have provided data via the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act Report (BAPCPA Report). The tables in this report can help New York bankruptcy lawyers and debtors get an idea of just who chapter

Read More »

How Much Interest Do I Pay in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Brooklyn bankruptcy debtors usually want to discharge their credit-card debts, but sometimes they are “solvent,” i.e. they own more than they owe. For these debtors bankruptcy might not be of much help. Or will it? Sometimes, but not always, a chapter 7 bankruptcy will not be useful to a solvent debtor, but a chapter 13

Read More »

Post-Bankruptcy Options for Underwater Second Mortgages

It’s not possible for debtors to cram down or reduce the principal amount of a primary mortgage in a New York bankruptcy case. This was an unfortunate route that Congress chose to take during the Great Recession. Although, debtors do have options for dealing with junior mortgages that are underwater, i.e. not secured by any

Read More »

Will My Employer Find Out About My Bankruptcy?

Many New York bankruptcy debtors wonder if their employers will find out about their bankruptcies. The short answer to the question is the same for just about anyone whom debtors might fear will learn of their bankruptcy filings: probably not. But as with many New York bankruptcy matters, there are caveats and exceptions. Here are

Read More »