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No Place to Hide
Recently I had an experience that brought home the fact that we have entered a new world in which databases make information about all of us available to a wide variety of entities.
I took my son’s car into a Midas repair shop for its first oil change since we bought it used. The car never had been serviced there before, so it should not have been in the shop’s database. But when I gave the mechanic the license plate number, the car popped up on the computer. I asked the mechanic if the shop was tied into the Secretary of State’s database, and he said, “No, we’re on the Carfax database.” He went on to say that the shop would report the oil change to Carfax, which would be a way to prove to the next owner that the car had been serviced regularly.
However, not all repair shops are part of the database, so if I had taken the car for an oil change to one of those shops, my maintenance record could have looked more sketchy. The same thing would be true if I had changed the oil myself. And with Carfax becoming kind of the equivalent of a “credit score” for your car, that could have had an adverse effect when I sold the car or traded it in.
In addition, it is possible – and maybe even fairly common – for the people in repair shops, police departments and other places that report data to Carfax to make a mistake or to lose records. That also could have a negative impact on the resale value.
Carfax reports are even starting to affect insurance claims. For example, if a car has body work that will show up on Carfax – and that could reduce the resale value of the car – some owners are asking for additional claims payment to cover that potential reduction in value; there is no consensus yet from insurers on this issue.
And cars are not all that are being evaluated based on databases. The largest group of health care centers in North and South Carolina has started evaluating consumer data on patients and then sharing the findings with the patients’ doctors. For example, if a patient buys a lot of fast food, regularly buys candy at the supermarket checkout or starts buying plus-size clothes, the health care group could alert the patient’s doctor that the patient might need to be evaluated for high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. Other hospitals and health-care providers around the country also are using consumer data in various ways.
Databases have been used for years in marketing -- have you ever searched online for information about an exotic locale, only to find your email filled with offers from companies that provide tours to that place? But as more and more personal and consumer information is online, this trend is likely to continue and expand – whether we like it or not.