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I'm currently in the process (early process) of trying to get a product into the market. I am a college student with a heavy, background in computer hardware and software. As I began my research, I started to study market disruption and successful crowdfunding campaigns, and the cornerstone of almost every one of those is a large social media/ media presence, filled with loyal followers and hungry reporters. I came up with a good company name tonight, and while looking for a site to check if the name was trademarked, I noticed that in almost all of them, you had to enter your email. I have a special spam email just for the purpose of signing up for garbage, but if I was signing up for something important, such as a product I use everyday, I would most certainly use my actual email, which I check every day.

My question is, what stops valid companies from collecting and selling their customer base's personal information, such as emails, to other non-competitive companies, or even just spammers? Is that legal? Just how profitable is this? If you run a successful company, and you have a lot of valid customer info, what can you do with it. Obviously for most companies, keeping an image of honesty and trustworthiness is very important, but how will customers know if their information is being sold by you?

Selling addresses and names sounds almost certainly illegal, but what about non-identifying information like emails or even telephone numbers? Are you allowed to do this?

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There are business that exist by harvesting leads and selling them to other companies.

These leads can be access to resumes they sell to business looking for employees; they can be eyeballs that view their adds; they can be list of people that meet a specific credit profile.

All are legitimate business and many are growing businesses. But in all these cases they are upfront with the things they are doing. They all have escape mechanisms for you to either stop them from selling your info to other customers, or to restrict the ability of those customers to contact you.

There are also companies that are less honest with their collecting and selling of information. They are not honest about what they are collecting, and they have no care about how others use it.

There are also cases where when a company buys another company, and one main item in the transaction is the current and potential list of customers. Business with a legitimate product to sell, protect that customer list, that is the keys to the kingdom. They are the likely people who will buy the next version; they are also the ones that their competitors would love to target to convert them to another product.

In some businesses, the company that develops the platform will sell to developers of add ons access to the marketplace. They may charge a flat fee for access, or charge a percentage of sales, or both.

What you can do, and how you are allowed to do it, and what mechanisms are in place to protect people, are dependent on the country you operate in.

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but what about non-identifying information like emails or even telephone numbers? Are you allowed to do this?

Most countries have privacy laws that would explicitly forbid companies from selling data not just to other companies, but even to other divisions within the company without explicit approval from customer.

There are adequate regulatory controls that would stop companies from indulging in such practises.

However tons of smaller / un-registered companies or companies operating from certain countries are definitely a source for such practises.

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Yes, some companies sell personal data on their customers, but it almost always means a bad business due to reputation cost.

The Financial Times even made a calculator to demonstrate how much personal information is worth:

The sellers get pennies for the info, so that any decent business would earn more staying away from such dubious operations.

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