Attorney General Ford Explains Currency of Data, Encourages Companies to Test Automated Systems

Jan. 25, 2023

Carson City, NV – As part of Data Privacy Week, Attorney General Aaron D. Ford explains the value of consumer data and encourages Nevada consumers to be cautious with their data and encourages companies to take steps to protect and use consumer data wisely. 

“Understanding that your data has value is one of the first steps in keeping your data safe,” said AG Ford. “Even data you freely offer to legitimate companies can pose a risk, if it falls into the hands of hackers.”

The Currency of Data

Your personally identifying information is valuable to both legitimate companies, such as service providers and sellers, as well unscrupulous individuals, such as hackers and scammers. For example, according to Iowa State University’s Information Assurance Center, approximately 10 trillion records have been stolen since 2013, and the estimated revenue attackers have made since 2018 is $1 trillion. As for legitimate use, Google made approximately $134 billion in ad revenue in 2019.

    Data comprises a host of information, including personal identifying information, such as full name and date of birth; personal information, such as family members and pet names; interests; lifestyle habits, such as what you buy and where you visit; and secrets, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Some of the data is anonymous, meaning that it cannot be tied back to you. However, this information is still valuable to companies because it contains how many times you visit a website and whether you click on links. Attribution data is even more valuable, and can be tied to your identity, such as your email. This is why some websites ask you to register to visit, even when the content is free.

    Ways You Share Data

    There are several ways that companies and hackers can get your data. Often, we voluntarily offer our data in exchange for services.

      • Online Accounts: If you sign up for email lists, email notifications, or register with a website, you are alerting the company that you are interested in its product or service 
      • Social Media: When you follow an account, like a page, or join a group, you are advertising your interests and lifestyle habits. This type of information is valuable to advertisers. 
      • Games and apps: Many apps and games use ads to generate revenue by enticing you to buy something. Often, these are linked to social media accounts, meaning that you see the same information across multiple platforms. 
      • Cookies: Far from the tasty snack, a cookie is a tracker placed in your browser by a website so they can track your online movements. Cookies are generally anonymous unless they are linked to attribution data on the website. 
      • You may also involuntarily share your data through phishing scams, malware, ransomware, and other types of cyber attacks.

        Legitimate companies profit off your data when you click through links or ads on their websites and make a purchase. The site can also get paid by number of ad clicks. Companies may also sell your anonymous data for profit.

        Scammers can use the data as well. They may attempt to defraud you by using the data to make their scam more convincing. Scammers may also assume your identity by creating social media accounts, using your credit card information to make purchases, or by guessing your passwords.

          How to Keep Your Data Safe

          The Office of the Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection offers the following tips for keeping your data safe.

          • Never respond to unsolicited requests for your information, money, or clicking on links. Remember that even your personal interest can be valuable currency to unscrupulous individuals. 
          • Use strong, multifactor passwords. 
          • Don’t download things from a website you are unfamiliar with or do not trust. Look for the padlock symbol when visiting a website and HTTPS in the link, both of which indicate that the website is secure. 
          • Protect your phone with a passcode, fingerprint or face ID. 
          • Don’t store your secrets on your phone. 
          • Spend some time going through your devices to understand what sort of data is collected. Don’t forget about wearables or smart devices around your home.

            Corporate Responsibility

            Nevada companies should responsibly collect consumer data. Under Nevada law, websites must include a link where Nevada residents can submit a request that their private information not be sold. This means that Nevadans can opt-out of data collection and cookies. 

            Increasingly, companies are using automated systems that use algorithms to make decisions about consumers based on the data collected. These algorithms can influence consumers’ personal circumstances — for example, automated systems may lead to the refusal of a loan application or to offering a higher interest rate. Consumers’ health could also be in affected, such as if an algorithm accidentally counts pets’ pain medications as the owners’, causing the automated system to deny pain medications to patients.

              Companies that use these automated systems should take steps to test their automated systems for faulty data, bias and safety risks so that their algorithms do not erroneously exclude (or expose information about) particular members or eligible recipients from financial, medical or other essential products and services. Companies should evaluate if a decision-based algorithm is necessary, and consumers should be able to explicitly give consent to a decision based on an algorithm.

              The Federal Trade Commission has posted several resources about these and related topics. For more information on automated decision making, visit: For more information about protecting your privacy, visit: