Equifax and data privacy: How the media could empower consumers | The Knife Media

 AP Images

AP Images

(The Knife Media) Equifax has a responsibility to protect its customers’ information, especially given how much it has and the sensitivity of that data. Given the recent breach, it’s important for the media to examine the company’s inability to do so.

Many outlets did just that in their coverage. But the articles we analyzed focused almost exclusively on what Equifax did or didn’t do, without considering other factors (which is slant), and used dramatic words that sensationalize the company’s failures (which is spin). This reporting may suggest Equifax is solely to blame. Yet where does that leave consumers? Did they play a role in this? What can they do now?

Before exploring those questions, let’s look at how the articles emphasize that Equifax is to blame:

Example 1: “Top Democrat likens [Equifax] to Enron” (Reuters’ headline). Some of Enron’s top executives were convicted of fraud and conspiracy. What does that imply about Equifax?

Example 2: AP says the “breach sows chaos” and “Equifax’s response has satisfied almost no one.” This example speaks for itself — it’s pretty clear who is to blame.

Example 3: NPR offers another point of view by listing things people can do to protect their data, but not before implying Equifax is inept and consumers are powerless. It says Equifax left “many consumers wondering what — if anything — they can do to protect themselves if the company tasked with safeguarding their credit can’t even make its phone lines operate.”

Again, it’s important to examine Equifax’s responsibility in the matter. It’s also reasonable to point out that it’s difficult for consumers to operate in today’s technological society without giving away their data. In this specific case, it may have been challenging for people to protect themselves given how credit reporting agencies acquire their information (see “How to protect your data” for more details).

But to focus only on Equifax could detract from an examination of how consumers may also have responsibility. It may suggest that consumers are incapable of protecting their data, rather than empowering them to see how they could.

So then, what is the responsibility of consumers in this matter? The following questions may help:

  • Do consumers tend to read Terms and Conditions and privacy policies before signing up for services or entering their data online?
  • Do we prioritize keeping our data safe above the convenience of a particular service? Do we treat our data like a prized possession?
  • Do consumers know credit bureaus collect information from companiessuch as banks, credit card issuers and auto finance companies? What if consumers were more aware of what companies do with their data? Might that affect which ones they choose to do business with?
  • Before the Equifax breach, how many people were aware of how their banks or credit card companies used their data, and know it could be given to other companies?

Do you know people who would answer “no” to any of these questions? Some studies suggest that while consumers are concerned about data privacy, many don’t take steps to protect themselves from theft. It would appear, then, that some consumers could be participating in the problem by not taking proactive action. Once people see how they participate, they can become more aware and empowered in their decisions.

How can the media help? By fostering that awareness. News organizations could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the problem and give information to help consumers be more proactive with their data. See “How to protect your data” for a list of tips!

Written by Tine Stausholm

Edited by Shane Mottishaw and Jens Erik Gould

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