The internet is a rich world of platforms and services available that enable us to easily connect with one another. This allows us to grow our network and feel more connected to each other, as well as the brands and communities that we love. It also gives us easy access to information that may be otherwise hard to find, or extremely personalized services.
There’s a major downside to this openness and transparency: it’s nearly impossible to live a private life. By engaging online, you trade some measure of privacy — and put your personal information at risk of being hacked and then leaked or sold online. This can lead to identity theft — and tons of headaches!
One major driver of this data privacy problem are data brokers. These secretive companies compile our information from different sources into a detailed data profile. By aggregating these sources, data brokers connect the dots to build a profile that knows you better than yourself!
This is often done without our consent — at least in the sense of giving permission to build these robust profiles. We may click “I agree” on individual privacy policies and terms of service…but we rarely grasp how much we are giving up. More often than not, these opt-ins become permission slips to sell our data to the highest bidder.
This sucks! We should have more control over our data. That’s why we must get our information off the hands of these data brokers. Luckily, this detailed guide is going to help us to do just that!
Who are data brokers?
When the issue of data privacy comes up, most people immediately think of Facebook and Google. With recent data-privacy scandals from both brands, it’s hard not to think of them. There’s a whole other layer of other companies that deal in personal information. These data brokers buy and sell data, building an enormously lucrative business from your personal information. The industry generates up to $200 billion in revenue every year!
Data brokers also collect information directly from websites and apps, or they buy it from other companies such as consumer and credit card companies.
There are some data brokers that crawl for information on the internet, combining this information with details from offline sources. The result of this is data brokers can aggregate a pretty detailed treasure trove of personal information.
It’s scary how much they can find out about you by connecting the dots across all of these pieces of information!
Are data brokers legal?
With the potential for unprecedented levels of privacy invasion, one would think data brokerage is illegal. However, the truth is it isn’t. Thanks to loopholes in data privacy laws, brokers work at the outskirts of the law. In fact, depending on their mode of operation, they may also be under the full compliance of the law.
In the same vein, there are people who willingly share their data with brokers. Some programs pay people for sharing granular details and others pay to offer their consent to the program selling data to brokers.
What type of data do brokers collect?
Data brokers collect every single piece of data that they can about individuals, connecting the dots to build robust consumer profiles. They can use all kinds of techniques to gather the data, and piece it together using your IP address, your smartphone’s device ID and other common traits, such as:
- Web history
- Social media
- Online purchase history
- Offline purchases
- The warranty information from consumer businesses
- Credit card info
- Offline government records
Some other sources that data brokers tap into:
- Census data
- DMV records
- Marriage licenses
- Business licenses
- Lawsuits and other public legal proceedings
- Voter registrations
- Public data around political/charitable contributions
- Land use records
Basically, the major sources of information are the consumer stores that sell to them. For instance, Datalogix, a former data broker collects information from different types of store loyalty cards. They didn’t provide information on the brands that sell this information. But sources say it had the details of up to $1 trillion in consumer purchases.
In the US, the data brokerage industry is one that works on secrecy. Most data brokers won’t tell us where exactly they get our information. Also, the retailers who may be selling our information have the same level of secrecy.
Based on this wide range of sources, data brokers know the following:
- Full name
- Telephone numbers
- Email addresses
- Address including previous places of residence
- Social security number
- Data about assets owned (including real estate)
Data brokers combine all of this information to create user segments. Then, they sell this data to companies who buy our personal information for targeted advertising. They don’t really need our full names and addresses. Instead, they use our purchase history, web history, and gender to make advertisements and improve targeting.
How data brokers sell your identity
Data brokers make money by reselling data they compile. Depending on the company they are selling to, there are specific categories that hold more importance for the buyers. For instance, a data broker selling info to a health company will make more money selling information about search engine activity that revolves around health. The better the broker is at accumulating data points, and then connecting the points into a precise profile, the more money it will make selling your identity.
There have been reports of lists selling for up to $100 for 1000 names, maybe even more. It’s a lucrative industry that generates billions of dollars. Of course, it’s not without its controversies. Recently, a huge data brokerage scandal involved a company selling data from rape victims, people battling erectile dysfunction, and alcoholics to advertisers.
Typically, when selling our information to advertising and related companies, brokers use a cost per mile (CPM), model. Or they may sell as a percentage of specific media.
There are stories of data brokers selling sensitive information like medical records to third-parties. These reports say they do this to make more money. However, most brokers don’t need to sell this kind of sensitive data to make millions. They can simply focus on categorizing their lists into broad categories like music lover, impulse buyer, etc.
The largest data brokers
Deleting your information from online data brokers
To remove your personal information from data brokers, the first step is to create a burner email account. That’s an email that you will never use for any other purpose than making your data deletion request. In order to delete your data, you have to share your data by creating an account first!
Yes, it’s shady. But are you really surprised?
So, rather than just giving them your personal information again, create a throw away email account for this purpose. Once you set that up, pour yourself a cup of coffee and pull up a comfortable chair.
This is going to take a while.
You’ll need to go to each individual data broker, create an account, and then make a request to delete your information. You also need to do this for any other names that they might have for you, including nicknames. You’ll be able to find out specifically what they have when you do your search. Just remember that you must do individual requests for each opt out!
Another shady caveat: You may need to make these requests again. These companies build profiles continuously; your deletion request doesn’t mean they can’t start collecting data about you again.
Groan. So set an annual task to do this process every year!
ESTIMATED TIME: 20 minutes
WhitePages is one of the most popular data broker websites with 40 to 50 million visits each month. Unfortunately, this site doesn’t just collect peripheral information like our names and social media handles.
WhitePages digs a bit deeper into our current and previous residence, landlines, colleagues, and relatives. While all this is pretty invasive, it doesn’t end there.
With a premium subscription, any stranger can get our mobile numbers, professional licenses, information relating to property ownership, and bankruptcy details. They can also have a full history of all the places we’ve lived before, liens, judgment, and criminal records.
To top it all off, with a paid subscription, anyone can see our confidential background checks. Scary!
To opt out and delete yourself from WhitePages.com:
- Visit their website and input our names and ZIP codes.
- Click “view details” after finding our records.
- Copy the URL at the top left corner of our profile.
- Visit their opt-out page, paste our URL, and click on the opt-out button.
- Click on “remove me” when redirected to confirm our identity.
- Pick a reason for wanting to be removed.
- Verify our identity by providing our numbers and asking to be called, after which we’ll get a verification code.
- Pick up a call from the WhitePages robot and give it our verification code.
Due to the vast amount of information they have on us, the whole process can take up to a day. However, when it’s done, all we need to do is check back frequently to see if our accounts haven’t been reinstated.
ESTIMATED TIME: 10 minutes
This website isn’t quite as popular as WhitePages. But, it still has upwards of 21 million visits every month. That roughly equals 250m+ people viewing our details each year.
Anybody who wants to can see our previous locations, our aliases, and relatives. However, if they happen to be subscribers on the platform, they’ll get more than that. A subscriber can see your phone numbers, physical and email addresses, level of education, and marital status.
The Spokeo platform also gives out information on our relatives, property value, ownership info, and social networks.
To remove yourself from Spokeo:
- Visit their official website and search for our identities after putting in our first and last names.
- Click “see results” after scrolling through to find our profiles.
- Copy the URL at the top of our browser.
- Go to the opt-out page and paste the URL there.
- Write our email addresses and resolve the reCAPTCHA before clicking on “Remove the Listing.”
- Click on the link in the email address we’ll receive to complete the removal process.
The removal process takes about 48 hours. However, we’d have to go through it in another couple of months.
ESTIMATED TIME: 15 minutes
To the ordinary, undiscerning eye, MyLife is just a regular social media website. However, nothing could be further from the truth than this. MyLife.com rakes in around 18.5 million visitors every month. They have access to our phone numbers, address, net worth, and even our car model.
MyLife also gets the criminal records of its users alongside their liens, lawsuits, and bankruptcies. Beyond these, the website asks its users to leave reviews of people’s character and reputation. There are no reasonable limits to who can leave these reviews.
So, an angry ex or a spiteful past employee can come up and say whatever they like. As such, it is crucial to get off this website!
To do so, we can either call or send an email. If we choose to call, the person on the other end will guide us through the process. The number is (888) 704-1900. Be prepared for them to discourage you, though!
For the email, we’ll need a bit of structure to guide our request. It should include our first and last names, all previous locations alongside the present, and our birthdays. Emails must be clear and thorough.
To remove yourself from MyLife, take note of these three things:
- The information provided must be very accurate. This is to ensure that they don’t accidentally remove someone else’s profile instead of ours.
- You may have to send requests from each email you want deleted.
- If you don’t ask them to remove our details from all their other websites, they won’t.
After about three to five days, you’ll be free from their spying eyes. But beware: your profile may return in four to five months.
This data broker is slightly less popular than MyLife. However, with 18 million visitors each month, it’s not by a considerable margin. Unfortunately, each of those 18 million visitors can see our age, location, family members, and aliases. That’s a lot of information for random strangers to have.
And with a premium account, users get even more detail: a subscriber can see our numbers, property reports, convictions, address history, criminal records, etc.
To delete your data from BeenVerified:
- Visit the BeenVerified website.
- Enter your first and last names city, after which you’ll hit the search button.
- Click on the profile that matches our identity.
- Enter our email address and solve the CAPTCHA.
- Click the “verify opt-out button” after receiving an email from the data broker website.
When all this is done, wait to get a mail confirming our exit from the site. The entire process shouldn’t take more than 24 hours. Afterward, you’ll be free for another sixteen weeks or so. And then you have to do it all over again…
ESTIMATED TIME: 15 minutes
This is another data broker that has millions of visitors each month. It’s not exactly huge compared to the fifty million of some others. But, 16.5 million is still a lot of people to share our details with.
Admittedly, Truthfinder is a bit more stingy with our personal information. They only give out our age, possible relatives, and location. However, if a paid subscriber wants to do a little snooping, they’ll get the full package.
This includes everything from our business-related details to our neighbors and even our social profiles. Beyond that, they can get our pictures, property history, vehicle, hunting records, criminal records, etc. No random stranger should have this much detail about us!
Annoyingly, you can’t opt out via mobile devices or through fax messages. It’s more manual and you have to do it record-by-record:
To remove yourself from Truthfinder:
- Visit the removal page on Truthfinder.
- Click the “search” button after putting in our first and last names alongside our city.
- Click the button that says “remove this record” after finding a result that matches our identity.
- Enter our email to receive a confirmation mail from Truthfinder.
- Open the email and confirm your opt-out.
The whole process may take up to forty-eight hours. And it might take a few months for your profile to reappear.
Axciom is one of the largest broker beasts, with tentacles that reach far and wide. This is another data broker that gives people access to our information as it pleases. This website goes a bit further than just letting people see our info. Much like other data brokers, Acxiom sells your information to retailers for a profit. This opens our data up to exploitation, among other things.
And they will try to convince you to stay in their database, listing “benefits” of inclusion. Don’t pay that too much credence…
To delete yourself from Acxiom:
- Visit their opt-out page.
- Check all the boxes to opt-out from every list and specify who we’re opting out for. In other words, Acxiom allows us to perform the action on behalf of someone else.
- Fill out our information as required, using the green and red signs to add and delete, respectively.
- Click “submit” after performing the CAPTCHA.
- Verify our request through an email address.
- Click on the link we see in the email that Acxiom sends to us.
- Click the “submit” button after solving one last CAPTCHA.
After this process is done, you have to wait for about two weeks for your data to disappear. Much longer than the rest!
Data brokers are quite invasive of our privacy, and they hardly care to ask for permission. While they do have their uses, they can also be pretty dangerous to our safety. As such, it’s essential to get off these sites as soon as possible. Stay safe, protect your data and prevent identity theft!