I was shocked yesterday when I went to a website — tlo.com — and entered my license plate number. One click and a series of photographs of my car with date and location was revealed. Seemingly, I had someone tailing me and taking photos of my rear license plate at various locations throughout New York City.
A new industry of data brokers has sprung up. They sell locational information on license plates that have been photographed. These companies use license plate recognition software to identify and sort the massive amount of data.
Data brokers cater to lawyers, private investigators, law enforcement and insurance companies. The information (along with GPS and cell phone records) can be used to prove insurance fraud, bolster a civil lawsuit or even solve crimes. A recent Forbes article quotes one data broker as follows: “With a massive database of one BILLION vehicle sightings and the addition of up to 50 million new sightings each month, Vehicle Sightings provide valuable information for both locating subjects and investigating the historical whereabouts of both individuals and vehicles.”
While the data is spotty, it isn’t hard to imagine when these companies will be able to re-construct the travels of any random person, and even post the places at which that person visits. Pretty scary!
I understand that there is a limited expectation of privacy while in public, but the bygone days of having some type of anonymity are waning fast. What do you think?