When it comes to your privacy, there is one industry that make it their business to know your secrets. Data-mining companies don’t dig for gold, but for consumer information, a powerful and lucrative commodity. One company that has proven itself sophisticated at harvesting its customers’ data is Target.

One Minneapolis area dad found this out the hard way when he discovered Target ads for baby furniture and maternity clothing in his mailbox. Turns out, his teenage daughter was pregnant. Shockingly, the retail chain knew before he did. Target marketers have developed a detailed list of purchases typically made by pregnant women because they know that big transitions like starting a family means a consumer is changing what they buy and possibly where they buy it.

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” found that the company kept track of both the usual and the unusual when it comes to their customers, including, age, marital status and address, but also surprising things like the amount of time it takes the client to drive to Target, reading materials, job history, political affliation, estimated salary and favorite websites.

Retailers like Target actively track their customers but there are some companies that do nothing but collect information on consumers. Two companies, Milliman and Ingenix, compile prescription drug histories on consumers from databases maintained by pharmacy chains and prescription benefit managers. Your medical conditions, test results from insurance underwriting exams and even potentially hazardous hobbies you have and driving records are compiled by a consortium of insurers called MIB Group.

To protect yourself, it used to be enough to put your name on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call registry, but these days, you’ll need to do more. Don’t ignore privacy rights notices from banks, brokers and other financial companies. You can use these notices to prevent companies from “sharing” or in truth, selling, your information with others. Another protection: When filling out a warranty card don’t put any more information on the card other than your name, address and the necessary product information Privacy Rights at offers opt-out policies for data brokers at www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm.   
 

Make sure to catch tonight’s Willis Report at 6pm ET as Medical Privacy Week continues with Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit." He'll show us how companies are tracking your every move to monitor your health!