5 Companies That Are Watching You More Than the NSA

In the digital age, it’s difficult to define exactly what is public and when we should reasonably expect privacy. Revelations regarding the surveillance reach of the NSA have many questioning who knows what and how much.

On a daily basis, your activity is being monitored by companies through one simple device – your cell phone.  And they know more about you than the government.

This data is being mined and bundled to get a clearer picture of who you are – and turned into gold.

Here are five companies that are making money by watching your every move.

1. Verizon

Verizon quietly made changes to their privacy policies way back in 2011 to indicate that they bundle customers’ usage – including Internet, calls, and texting – to be included in “marketing reports.” This information is for business purposes, which they then sell to their customers.

And by “customers,” they mean businesses interested in the plethora of marketing data.

Verizon has an entire division called Precision Marketing Insights, dedicated to the task of finding businesses willing to pay for the “anonymous” and “aggregated” data collected from users’ smartphones, like Internet and app use, as well as location data.

Yes, Verizon customers, you are paying to be a product.

2.  AT&T

Not to be outdone, earlier this month, AT&T announced that it “may” begin selling customers’ U-Verse usage, Internet and wireless usage, and location information. It notified customers of an update in its privacy policy telling customers it will be selling the information “anonymously” and in “aggregate,” like Verizon.

This means there is no personally identifying information indicating that it’s you at the Beyoncé concert. It will be in the business report as data points – without your name, of course.

The ad for the restaurant around the corner is just a coincidence.

With both companies, you can opt out of sharing the information via their websites. That just stops the sharing of info for marketing purposes, however — not the tracking.

3. Euclid Analytics

Euclid Analytics uses the “Wi-Fi antennas inside stores to see how many people are coming into a store, how long they stay and even which aisles they walk,”  by reading the pings off of people’s phones.

The three year old company boasts about 100 customers, including retailers like Nordstrom and Home Depot. Retailers can even get data on repeat customers and how long they linger on a particular aisle.

Again, the information transmitted is anonymous – for now. Euclid claims that it already has more data than it shares with its customers and would like to implement an “opt-in” feature so that shoppers could be identified and possibly enhance their retail experience.

It would be like shopping on Amazon.com, but with crowds.

4. RetailNext

San Jose-based RetailNext uses your cell phone’s Wi-Fi search feature to pinpoint where you are in the store, even if you don’t connect to the store’s Wi-Fi.

Combined with the footage from the surveillance cameras (they’re not just for security anymore), RetailNext helps retailers gather information about customers, the patterns they walk in the store, the items they select to try on and if that display of the latest spring fashion is making customers buy.

Someday, they think that those security tags will be a way to alert salespeople to suggest other items for you to purchase before you leave the store.

It would be like the “other customers have bought” message on Amazon.com, but with a perky salesperson.

5. Placed

Based in Seattle, Placed created an app for those that are willing to surrender to their corporate overlords and have their lives completely analyzed for marketing purposes. It’s new and it’s reach isn’t that far — yet. Since August of last year, more than 500,000 people have agreed to share their gender, age, and to be tracked by GPS and mobile networks.

Placed then…wait for it…bundles all that information and sells it to retailers and other interested business. People who download the app get gift cards and discounts.

It’s like living in the Matrix…with a Groupon.

We use our smart phones to play music, which we listen to while we work out. We download the workout app that requires us to put in our age, height and weight. We keep the GPS tracking on to monitor how far we walk, as well as to use the must-have navigation. When we get to our destination, we check in on Foursquare, post it to Facebook, Instagram the funny sign at the door, and post on Twitter – with the appropriate hashtag.

Sometimes we might even call someone.

With all the consternation over government surveillance in the name of national security, we seem to forget how much of our daily lives are already being data mined, harvested and sold to the highest bidder.

And it’s done without a warrant.


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Sarah Hill
Sarah H4 years ago

Where is our privacy?

Leah h.
Leah H4 years ago

Phillipa W. - "feeling" as if you are being watched is quite different from knowing that you are, in fact, being watched. The first is paranoid; the second is good reality testing.

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

This is as sad as it is wrong.

Arild Warud
Arild G4 years ago


GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

Don't have these five monitoring me; doesn't mean there's nobody else though...

Scary isn't it??

Peggy A.
Peggy A4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Miranda Lyon
Miranda L4 years ago

Does anyone really think all this is new? Only the electronic forms of data collection are new.

Sue Matheson
Sue M4 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thank you for sharing