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Your good name, sold for a penny

Most of us don't hesitate to send our personal data swirling out into the ether. We put our faith in encryption and let those digits fly.

Online transactions? Child's play. We're moving fast toward "presence awareness" technology that will allow networked devices (cellphones, PCs) to detect each other's location and "availability," even when they're turned off.

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We embrace such advances as the latest high-tech conveniences. But critics say this could cost us what's left of our privacy.

Today's lead story explores the recent surge in reports of worst-case privacy invasion: identity theft.

One reason for the crime's rise: the sheer volume of private data that's exchanged electronically.

You don't have to have put it out there yourself. In the 1990s, cheap software helped companies create extensive customer databases.

"Every time you buy something, subscribe to something, go online and supply your name and address, you are placing yourself on a list," the president of a list brokerage in White Plains, N.Y., told writer Noel Paul, requesting anonymity.

Not all lists created by firms are sold. Those that are typically fall to list brokers, who sell consumers' names and data to interested firms.

More than 40,000 lists are cited in the definitive index of lists for sale in the United States. Created by Standard Rates and Data Services in Des Plaines, Ill., the two-volume book is updated every two months. A one-year subscription costs $600. List sizes vary widely. Prices are based on a per-name fee ranging from a penny to a quarter.

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How to limit the degree to which your name is trafficked? Seek out firms that keep a lid on their lists, say experts - and with the others, exercise your right to "opt out."


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