What Are Data Brokers and Why Do They Have My Data?Jan. 26, 2022 / My Data Removal Staff
Have you ever heard of a data broker? Well, they have heard of you. Hundreds, if not thousands, of data brokers exist to collect information on you and other consumers from all over the globe.
The limited privacy laws in the US let data brokers act relatively unrestricted. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and other countries with stronger privacy laws have limited what data brokers can do, which protects individuals’ privacy. However, in the US, individuals have very little legal protection from data brokers collecting information about them.
Data brokers gather information from multiple sources, combine it, and sell it. This data often focuses on consumers (you) and is often used for marketing purposes.
The type of information that a data broker gathers depends on the particular niche it focuses on. In general, the types of information a data broker is interested in are:
- Government and public records
- Purchase history
- Online history
The more detailed a profile the data broker has on an individual or group of individuals, the more money they can charge when selling it to their customers.
Where do they get your information?
Data brokers collect data any way they can. This includes both reputable and questionable sources.
They will scrape your data off other websites (questionable or legitimate). Web scraping is a technique used to collect data from a website. The data is usually organized and added to their database. Maybe your LinkedIn or Facebook profiles are public. That is something they could scrape.
Brokers can get information from data breaches. Breached data is almost always data that was never meant to be public, but once someone uploads it to the internet, thousands of copies are made. At this point the data has essentially become public. This is valuable information to a data broker.
Your public records are often online. Counties often list tax and property ownership information on their websites. Some criminal records, mug shots, marriage and divorce records are also online depending on the state or county in which they occurred. These sites can be scraped without too much work. Voter registration records can be purchases in most states.
Sometimes services you use sell or share your information with data brokers. This can be your utility company, your credit card company, loyalty programs, free apps or games, your social media platform, mobile phone provider, internet service provider, or hundreds of other companies that you interact with.
Why do they matter?
Data brokers should matter to you because they have and share your information. They are selling you to anyone willing to pay. Sometimes it is just to companies that hope to sell you their products. But it can sometimes be more malicious.
If someone wanted to, there are a number of bad things they could do with your data:
- Steal your identity
- Scam you
- Dox you (share your personal information in a place or way that you do not want it shared or for the purpose of harassing you)
- Stalk you
Examples of data brokers
Acxiom – A database marketing company that in 2012 was reported to have the world’s largest commercial database on consumers. Their Marketing Solutions service sold for $2.3 billion dollars in 2018. Your data is worth a lot of money.
Nielsen – They focus on fast-moving consumer goods, consumer behavior, and media. They are the ones who report what the most popular shows are for every week. Media data revenue is only one quarter of their revenue: the rest focuses on consumer purchasing measurement and analytics.
Experian – A credit reporting bureau that collects and aggregates information on over 1 billion people and businesses. Experian also sells decision analytic and marketing assistance to businesses. They have had multiple data breaches.
Equifax – Another credit reporting bureau. They collect data on 800 million people. They sell credit and demographic data, credit monitoring, and fraud prevention. They have also had their data breached multiple times.
Corelogic – A corporation providing financial, property, and consumer information and analytics.
What can you do?
It is possible to opt out of most of the services these companies provide, which essentially means you can request they remove your data from their databases. However, it is not possible to remove yourself completely from all of them. For example, the credit bureaus will still be tracking and updating your credit score. Check out our post on How to Opt Out of the Top 10 Data Brokers for more info on how to opt out.
While the process is tedious, you can opt out yourself. For those who don’t have the time or the expertise, this is what we exist for. We are here to help you get your information out of these databases and give you peace of mind.