The insights in this blog post derive from a research study regarding how cases of identity theft get resolved and with what consequence. That study benefited from a partnership between Jordan Brensinger, a sociologist and PhD Candidate at Columbia University, and Change Machine.
With so much riding on personal information, it’s time we rethink how society assigns responsibility for managing it.
Americans’ chances of getting by or getting ahead increasingly hinge on personal data. Organizations use that data for wide-ranging purposes, from calculating crime and child abuse risks to allocating resources like credit, employment, housing, insurance, and public benefits.
Individuals are not passive subjects in this process—we are all increasingly expected to manage the information about us in virtually limitless ways. Just in the area of personal finance, people may work to maintain and protect their data by monitoring their accounts; setting up and reviewing automated alerts; changing and managing passwords; updating account information; filing, securing, and shredding documents; or determining how to respond to a data breach. Individuals may also try to improve their data by adjusting spending patterns or payment methods; applying for new accounts; and working with creditors and credit bureaus to raise their credit scores. And when disputes arise—as with administrative errors or identity theft—they are often responsible for contacting financial institutions, law enforcement, and other organizations, all of whom can require a myriad of steps as part of internal dispute processes.
Jordan Brensinger is a sociologist and PhD Candidate at Columbia University. He studies personal data and identification processes and their consequences for everyday life. His dissertation explores these issues by focusing on how individuals and organizations work to resolve cases of identity theft.