In other words, email isn’t just a place where you get messages – it’s also used in transactions which you’d like to be secure. And when that’s combined with some people’s poor personal security practices like using the same password for multiple websites, it becomes clear that the leak of an email address has the potential to be more serious than an inbox full of spam. Furthermore, security experts note that having the addresses associated with specific retailers or banks could allow for even more targeted phishing attempts.
Even putting aside the data breach, some privacy advocates expressed concern over a single marketing firm being in possession of so much consumer data. Stephens, for instance, says that a firm of Alliance’s size could hypothetically associate browsing and shopping habits with a consumer’s email address, then sell that data to other retailers who do business with the same consumer. Still, he stopped short of accusing Epsilon of such practices, and an Alliance spokesperson insisted that account information was never used for purposes beyond management of email lists.
It’s unclear, then, whether the average consumer should be concerned that Epsilon – a company previously unknown to most Americans – is in possession of so much consumer contact information. A spokesperson said that the company has “already started implementing changes” to its security procedures, though she refused to elaborate or say whether email addresses would henceforth be encrypted.
If there is a silver lining to this whole sordid affair, it’s that consumers are finally aware that when you give your email address to your favorite retailer, it doesn’t necessarily stop there. In most cases it will wind up with a third-party email marketing firm, and as we’ve seen last week, it may subsequently fall into the hands of spammers.
In the absence of regulations over a retailer’s ability to share user information with third parties, what consumers will do with this newfound knowledge will boil down to each person’s ideas over how private they want their information to be.
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