What are data brokers?

If you’ve ever asked yourself, or anyone, the question, “what are data brokers,” then congratulations, dear friend. You have taken the most basic step you’ll need to protect your privacy on the internet and to protect yourself in the physical world. How? Well, you’ve chosen to educate yourself.

The relatively unrestrictive privacy laws in the United States of America have allowed for the quick multiplication of data brokers. So much so that it is almost impossible for you to keep your business to yourself online these days. Sadly, despite the dangers they pose to people physically and virtually, not everyone knows about them.

For that reason, we have chosen to write this short piece to keep you informed. Here, we’ll be answering the top question that’s been on your mind for the longest time – what exactly are data brokers?

Data brokers, defined

A data broker is a company that gathers information about people from different parts of the country by themselves or with the help of others. To get it themselves, they often crawl through different parts of the internet, legally (or along the borders of the law), and pick up bits and pieces of information. 

To get it from other people, the common practice is to buy it from people who have access to the data that they need. More often than not, they get data from public social media profiles and credit card companies, among others. Other sources include:

  • Your web history
  • Your purchase history
  • Government records

Data brokers combine these sources into rich profiles of consumers, and then build audience segments that can then be sold commercially. And yes…it’s perfectly legal!

“There’s nothing unlawful about posting this information online. You have to draw a distinction between the data broker and a credit reporting or consumer reporting agency, and that really depends on how the information is used.” 

-Vice

What are the different types of data brokers?

Having your information sold without your permission is already a pretty disturbing thing to think about. However, it doesn’t end there, as different types of data brokers collect different types of data and use it for various purposes. They are:

Advertising and marketing data brokers

As their name implies, these data brokers specifically exist for marketing and advertising. No, it doesn’t mean they are primarily created to market products. What they do is gather information about people that will help to create targeted adverts. For example, an advert and marketing data broker will collect information about you like your age, gender, location, income level, etc. 

If you fit into their target market, you’ll either get their advert directly or have your details sold to companies that need them to send you an advert. So, yes, that’s where all those strange spam messages in your email come from. 

Fraud detection data brokers

These data brokers exist for a somewhat noble cause. Their sole purpose is to collect and keep details about you so they can detect fraud. A data broker like this usually serves companies like banks. 

For example, before giving you a loan, a bank will turn to a fraud detection data broker to see if you are who you say you are. If your details check out, you’re one step closer to getting your cash. If they don’t, you may be in more trouble than you think.

Risk-mitigation data brokers

A risk-mitigation data broker uses this information to make you certain offers. For example, some may gather information that indicates you go to the gym regularly. With that kind of information, they’ll put you among those who aren’t very likely to have heart problems. As such, you won’t be getting offers for any heart medication or gym memberships, among others. 

Another example is using information about your financial status to make offers. If your online purchases are high with a sizable income, it will indicate you’re relatively comfortable financially. So, these brokers will make you high-risk/high-interest offers. However, if the inverse is the case, then they will offer you low-interest avenues to invest your money.

People-Search data brokers

In a manner of speaking, these brokers exist to serve the interest of other people. Technically speaking, they still sell your information to others. 

However, many of them claim they exist to help you find long-lost friends and family members. On the website of these data brokers, you’ll simply log in, search for whoever you want to find, and you’re good to go.

Why are data brokers bad for you?

It’s simple, really. You shouldn’t be comfortable with data brokers because they invade your privacy. With the personal information that data brokers sell to other people, especially people-search data brokers, anyone can find you. 

“Anyone” here can include criminals or people who have an unsettling grudge with you. You’ll have to agree that that’s not very safe, is it? That’s precisely why you should get your information off these data brokers’ sites.

The most popular data brokers in the US

Now you know what is a data broker. However, before you can get your information off these data broker sites, you need to know who they are, right? 

Well, these guys are the most popular in the United States of America:

  • Acxiom
  • Experian
  • Epsilon
  • Datalogix
  • PeekYou
  • Exactis
  • CoreLogic
  • Recorded Future
  • Intelius

As you can see, data brokers are everywhere. They reach their tentacles across every aspect of our off-line and online lives.

Now, while it may seem a bit challenging to get your information off their database, it is not impossible. Check out our guide to delete yourself from data brokers. It’s a constant process you need to dedicate time and attention to. Or, to save time and hassle, let us do the privacy management legwork for you.

Stay safe out there!

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