Whatever we do on the internet, wherever we go, whatever we search, whatever we post, everything is tracked and monitored. The biggest beneficiaries of this are known as data brokers, companies that essentially exist to sell your personal information.
So What Are Data Brokers?
According to recent statistics, the data brokering business is worth around $200 billion per annum, with as many as 4,000 data brokering companies in existence around the world. In terms of what they are and what they do, data brokers aim to collect information from a number of sources to build up a picture of you as an individual before selling that on to third parties.
Unless you follow data broker opt out guides, there’s not a lot you can do about it, especially as most people do not even know they are giving their information to the broker in the first place. They do not interact with the individuals whose data they are attaining, but instead, take advantage of your own internet trail, which is made up of searches, posts, and website clicks – as mentioned previously, anything you do on the internet can be followed to build this picture of who you are.
How Do Data Brokers Get The Information?
Data brokers do this through a process known as “web scraping”, which is a software or script that can extract data from your internet experience and then gather all of the information together.
As well as this, data brokers also use public sources – birth certificates, court records, motor vehicle records — commercial sources – your purchase history, loyalty cards, coupons – and even your own consent – when you allow cookies on certain sites or sign up for things online, you are sometimes giving consent for the data to be shared without knowing it. Information that is being collected includes:
- Your Name
- Your DOB
- Your Gender
- Your Marital Status
- Your Address
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Education Certificates
- Your Occupation
- Your Phone Number
- Your Email Address
- Your interests, hobbies, and purchasing habits
How Does This Affect You?
As mentioned before, your data is being used to sell to third parties and create commercial opportunities for them. This mostly comes through marketing and advertising – you will notice a large portion of ads online are catered towards you – but also things like health insurance – allowing companies to work out rates you should be charged for – and even dangerous people-search sites – where people can access your information for a fee, which can often lead to identity theft.
Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, the question of data brokers has been a common theme on the internet for the last decade or so. According to data brokers, they are only sharing “anonymised” data, but this can be quite hard to believe, especially when it comes to exactly how it can be anonymised.
Thankfully, there are things you can do about it. As mentioned previously, data broker opt-out guides exist to give you the ability to block data brokers and ensure that your information is not being shared, both for commercial or nefarious reasons. As always, though, it is up to the individual to be aware of what’s going on and take it into their own hands in the way that they believe is appropriate.