A tweet a few days ago from journalist Joseph Menn raises an important and thought-provoking point in the wake of the Target data breach: "I suppose those who can't qualify for credit use debit cards more, so the poor are put at greater fraud risk. #TargetBreach."
Menn pointed out via Twitter something that has been overlooked in what has become a nightmare for many impacted by the Target situation, which is that it was those with debit cards who face the greatest liability as a result of the breach of the mega retailer.
While privacy is continually being examined by policymakers, academics, lawyers, journalists and others who are interested in where our laws, both formal and informal, are moving when it comes to privacy, the Target breach seems to have served as a sort of "tipping point," where even the average person who is not spending their entire life online has now been affected by a breach by simply going to a retailer to purchase their everyday items.
Since the breach has to do with debit card pins, we have to ask ourselves if there are certain people who, due to their economic status, are in a much more precarious position when it comes to privacy than others. Creditworthiness is a factor when it comes to privacy, even though many who use debit cards may not realize it.
The credit issue merely scratches the surface in thinking about how inequities may impact personal privacy. Transaction costs have been discussed and received some academic treatment, examining how those less economically advantaged may have greater incentive to give up personal data for some financial benefit, whether that be a discount or some item, perhaps a necessity, that they may receive for free.
It is also important not to overlook the impact of education. It is easy to be flippant and say people do not care about data privacy. Do they even know what it is? Are they even economically in a position where they have the ability to care and make actionable decisions about protecting their personal privacy? We should understand that it is a luxury to be fully informed and debate what are becoming vital economic security issues related to personal data.
We often raise red flags on issues that may seem trivial in the view of what impacts people's lives everyday (when an application like Snapchat changes its settings or features, for example), but in the aggregate, it is all part of a larger conversation around personal privacy. While we have decided to protect certain classes of people (children) and information (health and financial), we may not be doing enough to protect consumers who do not have the means, or choices available to them, to protect themselves.
When we hear the stories of people distressed because they cannot get through to the Target hotline or have been on the phone for hours, we should be seeing these stories as lessons regarding the real impacts of data breach. These stories are but a few from the millions of people whose financial sustainability is dependent on being able to keep even the meager amount of money they may have in a checking account secure. The necessity of using a debit card should not subjugate a class of consumers to less data security than others.