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Should consumers be notified when their personal data is collected, sold, or disclosed?

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, small business owner Brad Werntz and manufacturing manager Steve Witherspoon offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Sure, but it’s not realistic to lock down every piece of personal data.

By Brad Werntz

Yours truly’s view of cybersecurity has been a bit scatological, and the reason for that is because once your information is out there, it’s a bit like having pee in the pool. You can dilute it and filter it, but the truth is once it’s there, it will always be there.

While I know a couple people who have no digital footprint, many like me have been online since the age of dial-up bulletin boards [you can look it up]. Over the course of 25-plus years of the digital era or any era for that matter, that’s a lot of pee in the pool.

That said, I’m not cavalier about digital security. I’m just realistic. The data is out there, for most of us. While cybercrime is growing, the more data there is, the less likely that any one individual will be targeted, and so there is less to worry about than meets the eye.

For these and other reasons, I’m all for diluting the data pool. I’m also in support of filtering data and preventing individual information from getting into the wrong hands.

There needs to be very strong firewalls between personal identifying information and aggregated information. To illustrate this point, I recently did a study that surveyed a large group of people. We asked a total of 36 questions, and not one of them was designed to produce any personal identifying data.

Yet, because they came from a data set that we could examine in the aggregate, we knew the demographics of the various respondents, including where they lived by zip code, their ages, income levels, education, family status, and a host of other personally identifiable things.

I couldn’t reach out and contact any one of them if I tried, but I can describe as a group how they responded to the questions we asked. This sort of information is valuable and doesn’t put any individual at risk.

Personal information should not be shared, but if you were to ask me whether people should be notified when their personal information is shared, I’d say sure, but it’s not realistic to expect all information to be locked down, and there are things to learn when we share information in aggregate. Let’s remember that.

Brad Werntz is a small business owner in Madison.

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