How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?

It's up to you to decide who can access your personal information.

By + More

Recent findings revealed the National Security Agency is gathering data on consumers’ personal information. However big or small the NSA threat is to privacy, you may have already given up chunks of your information.

Gary Foreman headshot RESIZED.jpg
Gary Foreman
Here are some areas where your privacy may already be compromised:

Grocery store loyalty cards. Supermarkets say you can save 25 percent or more on selected items with the store’s loyalty card. By 2011,the number of loyalty memberships in the U.S. exceeded 2 billion, with around 18 memberships per household, according to data by Colloquy.com, a loyalty marketing and research firm.

In the past, stores focused mainly on offering loyalty members a discount on certain items; now they're stepping up their game. Based on your buying history, you'll receive personalized discounts on relevant products through some of your store loyalty cards.

Grocers are also looking to turn the data into a revenue source. For example, a store may give everyone who has purchased bacon in the past six weeks a special offer on a new brand or flavor, or it may give coupons for the manufacturer.

Auto insurance. Around the country, auto insurers are rolling out programs that will lower rates if you can prove you're a safe driver. How much you can save isn't clear, but considering how expensive auto insurance is, the savings could be substantial.

You can earn the discount by letting the insurer track your car electronically. Not only will the company know how many miles you drive but also information on what time of day you use your car and how fast you drive.

It's not well reported whether the data has remained private, but imagine what law enforcement or attorneys could do if granted access to such information.

Monitoring your money. Tracking all of your finances on one website can make it easier to manage everything from your credit cards to your 401(k). Specialized sites pull your financial data into one place – making it easy to understand and control what happens with your money. Many sites offer individualized charts, graphs and money-management tools.

To do that, though, the website needs to have access to your financial accounts. To keep your data secure, don’t enroll if the company asks to provide information to advertisers with your permission.

Shopping online. Many online stores collect data on customers. It's a simple matter of opting in to an email newsletter for daily deals.

These sites are legally required to have a privacy policy. Chances are you've never read it. Standard agreements promise to protect your data and notify you of any changes in policy.

However, even if the website doesn't use the information, you're still vulnerable. It’s possible for hackers to collect the newsletters, feeds and alerts associated with your email account and cellphone number – information that can be used against you.

Keeping tabs on your mobile phone. Tracking apps for cellphones are readily available. Most of the apps have similarl operations. All someone needs to do is login with your cellphone ID, and the app will pinpoint your mobile phone's location on a map – almost like CSI, but also a little scary. What happens if your soon-to-be ex's attorney wants your cellphone records for divorce proceedings? Would you want them to know where you've been for the last 90 days?

The bottom line. Technological advancements in computer storage and tracking power have made collecting and organizing personal data much easier. It's up to you to decide who can access your data and how much your privacy is worth.

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who founded TheDollarStretcher.com website and newsletters. The website features thousands of articles on how to save your valuable time and money, including an article on protecting your passwords.