The vast amount of knowledge that can be gleaned from our computers may have led experts to nickname this time in history the “Information Age,” but the moniker may yet prove doubly prescient, pointing to what’s quickly becoming the era’s most valuable commodity.
From cell phone apps to credit cards, access to nearly everything today comes at the same cost: private information. And it seems that even the right to drive in Alabama requires paying the personal price.
Details collected by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from residents filling out agency forms are being sold to two major data companies, according to an investigative report by Alabama’s Fox 10 News. Specifically, the DMV is hawking information gleaned from form DL-28, the state’s license application.
Among the sellable particulars are facts like a resident’s name, address, and phone number, but the form also collects even more personal details, such as an applicant’s race, sex, weight, height, and even eye and hair color.
While it may not amount to much—especially compared to the information many people willingly give out on social media—the data points are enough to make some serious money for the DMV.
The agency sells bundles of information for $22 per thousand records, according to the report. And business has been booming for years.
In Alabama, the DMV has been selling personal information for “15 to 20 years,” Mike Gamble, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Revenue, told Fox 10 News. All told, about 25 million such records have been sold, the report notes.
More troubling may be who’s doing the buying. The purchases are made by credit consumer agency Experian and consumer information company R.L. Polk, which is a division of Equifax, the credit reporting agency that recently suffered a massive cyberattack that put the sensitive information of more than 143 million consumers at risk, according to the report.
Still, Alabama is far from the only state in the info-selling game. Recent reports have found that Florida, Texas, and North Carolina, among others, have made millions from the trade. (An attorney contacted by Fox 10 News in Alabama estimated that at least 37 states authorize their DMVs to sell private information.)
Residents have very few options for opting out of the program. Several state officials interviewed in Alabama said only victims of domestic abuse are guaranteed the right to shield their details from the sales floor.
In the age of unlimited information, it seems, the only thing we won’t be able to know is how to preserve a little privacy.