No consequences for Equifax

TRAVERSE CITY — The most frustrating thing about the Equifax data breach — other than your life savings potentially disappearing overnight, now or 25 years from now — is that no one will truly ever pay for it.

The CEO certainly won’t pay for it, even though half of America had its private information stolen — Social Security numbers, dates of birth, probably even the passcodes to their garages.

As of this writing, he still has his job, if you can imagine that. Try screwing up that big at your job and see if you keep yours. And even if he’s eventually forced to resign, it’s really no big deal. He can retire if he wants. He’s rich, what does he care? And if he wants to keep working, that’s the great thing about being a CEO in America. You can fail big-time, drive your company into the ground, heck, drive two or three of them into the ground, and someone else will still make you their CEO. CEOs have a lot in common with baseball managers in that regard.

You’re thinking, “Well, maybe he’ll go to prison. Or someone will, at least, right?”

Don’t count on it. The Great Recession threw the entire nation into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. People lost their jobs, investments, retirements and sense of security. For many, life has never been the same since and never will be again.

But do you know how many top Wall Street bankers went to prison for it? One, according to the New York Times. So the odds of anyone going to jail for a data breach are pretty low.

“OK, maybe the government will fine Equifax then,” you’re thinking.

Maybe. But even if the government fines them, it’ll be a flea bite to a Great Dane. Equifax made $3 billion last year. Do you think they’re going to care if they’re fined a couple hundred million or even a couple billion dollars? Not likely. And even if a fine is huge, it won’t matter in the long run, especially now that they have 134 million new potential customers.

“What about a class action lawsuit then?” you’re thinking. “That’ll fix ’em.”

No it won’t. Equifax will almost certainly get stung for a huge judgment, very little of which you’ll ever see. But in the end — once again — it’s just money. They can make more. Meanwhile, you’ll have to worry about your identity and money being stolen until the day you die. Nice, huh?

Here’s how I see it: For companies to take protecting our data seriously, the people in charge have to pay a cost. And to me, it makes sense that they pay the same cost as everyone else. By that I mean they should have their private information exposed and see how they like it.

Specifically, I’m thinking Equifax CEO Richard Smith, his executive team and the nitwits in their security department should all have their Social Security numbers, birth dates, bank account and credit card numbers published on billboards nationwide until the last of them pass away decades from now. The information should be refreshed monthly. That way they’ll have to worry until the end of their days.

Right along with the rest of us.

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Andrew Heller, an award-winning newspaper columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Follow him at andrewheller.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Write to him via email at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com.

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