Download What stays in Vegas: the world of personal data—lifeblood of big business—and the end of privacy as we know it PDF

TitleWhat stays in Vegas: the world of personal data—lifeblood of big business—and the end of privacy as we know it
File Size10.3 MB
Total Pages337
Table of Contents
Introduction: Spies
1: What Happens Here, Stays Here?
2: A Harvard Professor Comes to Vegas
3: Loyalty
4: Casino Data Gathering in Action
5: A Celebrity, a Private Eye, and a Hit Man
6: Dossiers on (Virtually) Everyone
7: Direct Marketing
8: Recession
9: The Puzzle of Your Identity
10: The Hunt for a Mystery Woman
11: Thousands of Eyes
12: Mugged
13: Internet Advertising
14: Seeking the Goldilocks Balance
15: New Frontiers in Customer Data
16: Casino Adventures in Three Cities
17: Embracing Outside Data
18: The Not-So-Enriching Business of Privacy
19: Empowerment
Appendix: Take Control of Your Data
Document Text Contents
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and then New York, where he landed a job at a small investment bank
specializing in bankruptcy restructuring. He was earning $100,000 a
year, enough to afford a fifth-floor walkup apartment on Manhattan’s
Upper East Side. He met many clients and began to think big. “You
know what? I could do what these guys do. Why am I not sitting on
that side of the table?” he wondered. He decided to call it quits and
moved in with a friend in Austin, Texas, looking for new opportunities.

Mug Shot Empire

Prall’s personal-data empire lies in an office park overlooking down-
town Austin, the Texas capital. The company does not list its address
on its website or in local directories, and workers treat their location

Kyle Prall’s mug shots from his younger days. Source: McLean County Sheriff ’s

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150 WHAt stAYs In VeGAs

as a corporate secret. The sign on the door offers no indication of the
company’s business and could easily belong to a lawyer’s or insurance
office.8 The desire for anonymity is explained by Ryan Russell, Prall’s
chief investor: “I’m tired of death threats. I’ve never dealt with some-
thing this controversial. I’ve never dealt with something that made me
fear for my personal safety.”

Inside, the atmosphere differs little from that of a typical startup.
Computer engineers tap away on their keyboards in a large open space
ringed by sparsely decorated offices. By 2014
had gathered more than forty million arrest records. For most of the
company’s history it made money in part by charging people to pull
their files from the service. That, understandably, outraged some of its
targets, who think such a service is little more than an extortion racket.

Paola Roy and Janet LaBarba are just two of millions whose images
appeared prominently in Internet searches thanks to Prall’s company.
Images posted by users on Facebook, Flickr, or other sites typically do
not have the same sophisticated coding as Busted! uses, so they fall
lower down in Internet searches.

Prall says he is performing a public service by publicizing the photos
and helping those arrested on minor charges by allowing the removal
of images. “We’re not forcing you to pay for anything,” Prall says. “To
me it’s not a dagger in the heart. It’s a public record: it belongs to the

With twelve million to fourteen million arrests in the United States
every year, most commonly for drugs, theft, and drunk driving, Prall
has plenty of public records to chase, plenty of people to humiliate.9
In total, the FBI maintains fingerprints and criminal histories on sev-
enty-six million people.10

Prall defends posting images of people like Roy, even for such tri-
fling matters. “We do not feel it should be up to us to decide which
cases are worthy of meeting a nebulous standard of ‘serving public
good,’ so we instead allow the citizens to make those kind of judgment
calls themselves,” he says. “Unlike the traditional media that cherry-
picks the cases they cover based on their marketability, we make as
much information as possible without filtering or putting an editorial

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Adam Tanner writes about the business of personal
data. He is a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative
Social Science at Harvard University and was previ-
ously a Nieman fellow there. Tanner has worked for
Reuters News Agency as Balkans bureau chief (based
in Belgrade, Serbia), as well as San Francisco bureau
chief, and has had previous postings in Berlin, Mos-
cow, and Washington, DC. He also contributes to
Forbes and other magazines.

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Page 337

PublicAffairs is a publishing house founded in 1997. It is a tribute
to the standards, values, and flair of three persons who have
served as mentors to countless reporters, writers, editors, and
book people of all kinds, including me.

Stone, proprietor of I. F. Stone’s Weekly, combined a com-
mitment to the First Amendment with entrepreneurial zeal and
reporting skill and became one of the great independent journal-
ists in American history. At the age of eighty, Izzy published The
Trial of Socrates, which was a national bestseller. He wrote the
book after he taught himself ancient Greek.

Benjamin C. Bradlee was for nearly thirty years the charis-
matic editorial leader of The Washington Post. It was Ben who
gave the Post the range and courage to pursue such historic
issues as Watergate. He supported his reporters with a tenacity
that made them fearless and it is no accident that so many
became authors of influential, best-selling books.

Robert L. Bernstein, the chief executive of Random House
for more than a quarter century, guided one of the nation’s pre-
mier publishing houses. Bob was personally responsible for
many books of political dissent and argument that challenged
tyranny around the globe. He is also the founder and longtime
chair of Human Rights Watch, one of the most respected human
rights organizations in the world.

For fifty years, the banner of Public Affairs Press was carried by its
owner Morris B. Schnapper, who published Gandhi, Nasser, Toyn-
bee, Truman, and about 1,500 other authors. In 1983, Schnapper
was described by The Washington Post as “a redoubtable gadfly.”
His legacy will endure in the books to come.

Peter Osnos, Founder and Editor-at-Large

• • •

I. F.

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