What Corporations Know About Us

This morning, when I was listening to the umpteenth radio story about the Justice Department subpoena of Google, it occurred to me that Google might know less about us than some other companies.

I’ll use myself as an example. I use Google for searching and Gmail for e-mail. So they know what terms I’ve searched for and when, along with who I’ve sent e-mail to (and received e-mail from). They could certainly know the contents of every e-mail if they wished. The biggest potential risk to me of someone knowing what I’ve e-mailed or searched for is embarassment.

Compare that to what credit bureaus can know about me. TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax know at least the following:

  • current and past addresses where I’ve lived
  • current and past employers
  • when credit accounts were opened and closed
  • what things I’ve bought with credit, as well as when and where I bought them
  • all the loans I’ve taken out, and how quickly (or slowly) I paid them off.
  • who has requested my credit report

According to this web page, there’s a long list of companies and people who can look at my credit report. There are a lot of potential risks to me if I have a bad credit report:

  • I could be denied credit or other loans
  • I could lose out on potential job opportunities (company background check)
  • I could be denied housing (landloard background check)
  • I could end up paying high insurance premiums, or be denied coverage (insurance company background check)

At least Google lets you look at your recent search history. The law only requires credit bureaus to give you free access to your credit report once a year. After that, you have pay to get access.

Somehow, I’m a lot less worried about how Google will use what they know about me.