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  • What’s happening to your (dog’s) data?

    by David Comiskey
    Barkly Pet’s government “watch dogs” — photo by Jessica Feiden

    In the whirlwind of news emanating from Washington these days you may have missed an important story from last week. Congress passed a bill to allow internet service providers to sell your internet browsing history to advertisers.

    Disclaimer — I am a security geek. Prior to starting Barkly Pets with Chris & Jim, I worked as an analyst with the Defense Department where I often found my work dealing with security and cyberspace. You’ve been warned…

    This new bill is a fundamental departure from efforts of previous lawmakers to protect consumers’ personally identifiable information. The news got us thinking that our users and pet owners who are considering using Barkly as their dog walking service might be interested to know where we stand when it comes to their data.

    The pet industry is following the digitization trends of human services. With that digitization comes an immense amount of data. Data has always had innate value. As we humanize our pets and as the pet industry capitalizes on that humanization, the combination of your and your pet’s information is valuable. Take for example the acquisition the maker of the Twix candy bar, MARS, made last year of Whistle for $100+ million. Whistle was the creator of one the many Fitbit-like devices for dogs. All of that data on the health of dogs across the U.S. unquestionably was a driving factor for MARS, who owns two very large veterinary practices, to purchase a wearable pet tech device with such high multiples.

    Like human health services, the digitization of our pets’ health information is a good thing and while there are numerous examples of data being used for benign and overall beneficial reasons, there are disproportionately more examples where this is not the case.

    How can you tell if the service or product you choose for your pet respects your data? Of course you can read privacy policies carefully, but good luck understanding much. More importantly, take a hard look at the product and see how much data you can see about other users. Most services will tell you that they are not selling or sharing any personally identifiable information and this is likely true. The challenge rests in the gray area with non-identifiable information. The combination of several non-identifiable pieces of information can almost always be used to create a reasonable hypothesis of identity. This holds true with even your SSN!

    Trustworthiness is the primary factor pet owners consider when selecting a dog walker or pet care service. This is for good reason. Your dog walker is not only entering your home when you’re not there, but they are also caring for your furchild. So as the industry becomes more digital, shouldn’t it raise an eyebrow if the service you’re trusting with your pet is betraying that trust with your data?

    Here at Barkly Pets we take privacy seriously and in the wake of this bill, we’re surprised to not see Silicon Valley showing more outrage.

    We utilize your data at Barkly with one purpose in mind — to provide you the best service possible. We do not sell it, we do not offer it to advertisers, and we take strenuous steps to ensure that the third parties with which we integrate for things such as payment processing have similar standards when it comes to your information. You place a lot of trust in our hands and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.

    And back to what Congress is up to…as a business originally from Washington, we’ve put our own government “watch dogs” on patrol (see photo). Don’t let those happy pups fool you, they’re doing serious work!

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