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Information Grab

Our cell phone bill seemed expensive.  I wondered if there was a more reasonable plan that would suit our needs, so I called ATT, our service provider.  The person was friendly, and asked for my password. I gave what I believed to be the password, but the representative said that was the ATT online password. She needed a telephone password in order to speak with me. 

I didn’t have one, and in order to set one up, she said that she needed the last 4 digits of my social security number. As we know, our social security numbers are tied to important things; Medicare, retirement money.  Why should I have to provide any part of my Social Security number to the cell phone company? I declined, and said rather than provide the information, I would go online to review the cell plans offered. My ATT online account was already set up.

I entered the username and the password, and then another screen popped up: “To be sure that your account is up to date, please provide and answer two secret questions”. 

I was not able to bypass that screen, and had to provide answers.  Several of the questions were: “What was your first model of car?  What was your mother’s maiden name? What was the first concert that you attended?”

I don’t see that it’s any of ATT’s business knowing this.  I made up fake answers. These kinds of questions should be reserved for important stuff; bank accounts, insurance, retirement.

Criminals steal information in millions of accounts from one big company or another. Why is it so important that ATT have the last 4 digits of my Social Security number, or know my mother’s maiden name?  In 2009, Carnegie Mellon did a study and concluded that it was not difficult for experts to predict the first 5 digits of a person’s social security number. If that is the case, if crooks get the last 4 of the 9 digits that is all they need.

I was not able to find much about restrictions on what information may be requested of consumers.  Businesses may not request information about sex, race, religion, or marital preference most of the time, except for government survey purposes.  The US only monitors safety of cell phones; it does not get involved in contracts, or information collected.  States may do some regulation, but that relates to cell phone coverage areas.

I would far prefer that someone hacks into my cell phone account as opposed obtaining some of my personal information from the cell phone company, which perhaps could be assembled with information from elsewhere to get into my bank account or steal my identity. 

There is some interest right now in restricting information. Pete Buttigieg mentioned on the campaign trail that he would like to see a “right to be forgotten” law in the US, similar to Europe, where if requested, companies could not sell or use information relating to you.  

What I would like to see is restrictions on what personal information companies can request, what they can keep, and what they can sell. With restrictions on what information may be requested, it would be good to have a cap on damages for the consumer, similar to the cap that we have on credit cards if a crook gets your card information.  A cap of $50 exposure in case of someone getting into your cell phone account and running up a big bill would be a good benefit, and the cell phone companies probably correct your bill anyway now in such cases. 

Have you had these experiences and do you share my concerns? Please let me know your thoughts.  

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