Did you know that there is an entire industry devoted to buying and selling your personal information?
This includes your current and past addresses, your age, the names of your neighbors, and your purchase history, among other things.
The companies that compile and sell this information are called data brokers. It is a huge industry, but most people don’t even know that it exists. And data brokers would like to keep it that way.
Data brokers gather information about you from both public and private sources, such as home purchases, change of address forms, credit card activity, and even address information from local food chains. They then turn around and sell this information to whomever they want, usually online marketers.
But anyone with a credit card can buy this information.
Data brokers also gather information about you from the websites you visit, including any social media websites, and all your online purchases.
Basically, you are their product. And currently you have very little say in how information about you is bought and sold.
There are hundreds of data brokers — here’s a list that that includes a whole slew of data brokers — but below are some of the most well-known:
- Acxiom (http://www.acxiom.com/)
- MyLife (http://www.mylife.com/)
- White Pages (http://www.whitepages.com/)
- Intelius (http://www.intelius.com/)
- RapLeaf (https://www.rapleaf.com/)
- Spokeo (http://www.spokeo.com/)
- PrivateEye (http://www.privateeye.com/)
- Radaris (http://radaris.com/)
- BeenVerified (http://www.beenverified.com/)
Data Brokers and the FTC
Earlier this month, the FTC released a report that called for better consumer access to personal data held by data brokers.
The FTC also recommended that brokers publicly identify themselves and describe how they collect and sell personal information. Other possible regulations include allowing consumers to opt out of being tracked, both online and offline.
This is a step in the right direction, but so far no legislation has been passed to regulate what data brokers can and can’t do.
If you would like to remove your information from data broker databases, you have a couple of options.
First, you can contact data brokers directly and request to opt out from their data collection. Of course, there are hundreds of them, so it would take a lot of effort on your part.
You can also use a company like SafeShephard, which searches for your information, sends you privacy alerts, and contacts data brokers (including the ones above) to request that they remove your records. They provide a basic service for free and a more advanced one for a fee.
Other ways that you can protect your online privacy include installing a software product called Ghostery, which blocks all third-party content. Removing third-party content (such as cookies) prevents data brokers from tracking your online activity.
So what do you think about data brokers?
Should these companies be allowed to compile public information about you and sell it to the highest bidder? Do you think we need an easier way to opt out of such data collection?