Adam Tanner Speaks on the Rise of Personal Data Collection

What Stays in Vegas Makes it to the Kansas City Public Library

Book Cover What Stays in VegasAs the room filled, I looked around and noticed that the crowd I had expected to see was not the crowd that showed up. Taking a quick survey of the approximately 150 people, it was obvious this was an older crowd. It makes sense Millennials and to a certain extent Gen Xers have come of age in an era of digital data collection.  Boomers and their parents however, not so much. After pondering it for a moment, it made sense. The target market for Adam Tanner’s speech about who the data collectors are and how they operate had to be a generation that didn’t grow up with the idea of information being a commodity.

All that was forgotten however when Tanner began to speak. Opening with a story of his trip to East-Germany  in the 80s, he chronicled how the Stasi (the East German Ministry for State Security) followed him around taking meticulous notes on his activities.  The story was riveting and an perfect metaphor for the feeling most of us have about being watched by people who seem to be stalking us from the shadows. I’m sure it’s the same feeling many of the audience members have about those nameless, faceless dealers of our personal information. It’s a little disconcerting.

Though story after story Adam Tanner wove a picture of how data collection works, who’s doing it and why. Using Caesars Entertainment as the poster child for data collection Tanner explained how casinos and other business trade us perks and privileges in exchange for our personal information. Whether it’s a fast pass at an amusement park, free airline miles or a shorter line for the buffet, businesses use a simple system of rewards based operant conditioning to inspires us to stay longer, return sooner and spend more with them. And these were the positive examples of the collection of our personal data.

He also touched on the shadier side of data collection by siting examples of websites that encourage you to share more personal information under the guise of providing you with more and better services. They make it known that your information is shared with affiliates, but what “affiliates” means is left ambiguous. Tanner said in this case affiliates means data brokers.


It turns out that all of this information isn’t kept in a master file, but each piece of data collected on us is like a tile in a mosaic. With time and know how (some assembly required) anyone can put together a digital dossier of our lives that would leave many feeling shaken.  The fact is whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not


Who we are offline is becoming  inextricably linked to who we are online.

We are in the early days of this process and it can lead to some abuses, Tanner pointed out. Much like the automobile has grown safer as time has passed,  personal data collection will eventually have more and more safeguards built in. Siting both the positive effects of a customized experience with businesses and the abuses practiced by some data brokers, the story of how our personal data is still being written. Will it serve us or master us has yet to be determined, but  having heard Adam Tanner speak, I’m more aware of how the game is played.

If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, Adam Tanner’s book is Titled

What Stays In Vegas

The World of Personal Data -Lifeblood of Big Businesses- and the End of Privacy as We Know it


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