A data broker (also known as an information product company) is an organization that makes money by collecting your personal information, analyzing it, and licensing it out to be used by other companies for things like marketing purposes.
Data providers gather data from many different sources to create a profile of who you are. This profile includes things like your interests, hobbies, demographics, and even the products you use.
Generally, data broker companies only deal with customers to collect information. A few of the top data brokerage companies are Epsilon, Acxiom, and Experian, but there are many data brokerages worldwide that make a hefty profit from aggregating and distributing consumers’ personal data.
This article explains everything you need to know about data brokers, including what they do, how they get your information, and what you can do to limit the data they can access from you.
Where do data brokers get your information?
There are several ways information brokers can get your information — both online and offline.
- Sources available to the public: Some of your personal records are easily available to the public. Data brokers can collect public records like your voter registration records, birth certificate, criminal record, and even bankruptcy records.
- Search history: Data brokers can track and analyze your browsing history to see things like what content you’re interested in and what demographics you fall into. You leave a trail that brokers can follow whenever you do anything online (like sign into a social media app, visit a website, or do a Google search). Using web scraping tools (software that pulls information from the web), it’s easy for data brokers to see what you’ve been up to online.
- Online agreements: You’ll usually have to sign an agreement when signing up for a new service online. Many of these agreements have disclosures in the fine print that give the company the right to collect and distribute your personal information.
- Purchase history: Data brokers want to know what products or services you’ve purchased, how you paid for them (credit card, debit card, coupon, or loyalty card, for instance), and when you purchased them. This information can be very valuable to marketing companies.
Are data brokers illegal?
Generally, it’s legal for data brokers to get your information through public sources. However, different locations have different protections in place for consumers and different rules for how data brokers must operate.
Many countries have laws to protect consumers from having their information shared without their consent. For example, the European Union has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to protect data privacy. The GDPR says data brokers need to get consent from consumers before sharing their information. The law also gives consumers the right to demand that companies delete any personal information that they have stored.
On the other hand, the United States doesn’t have federal privacy laws protecting consumer information from data brokers. It’s up to the states to make their own laws. Some states prioritize consumer privacy more than others. For example, California has the Consumer Privacy Act, which gives customers the right to see what data a broker company has and the ability to delete it.
Typically, companies ask for consent to share your information through the fine print of their agreements. You might not be aware of how much of your personal information you’ve allowed organizations to share.
Who are the largest data brokers?
Data brokering is a huge industry. In fact, data brokers around the world bring in hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Here are some of the largest data brokerage companies that may collect your information.
- Epsilon Data Management, LLC: Businesses around the world rely on Epsilon for consumer data. The data management company has a massive database with details about millions of homes. You can request that your data not be collected by Epsilon on its website.
- Oracle America, Inc. (Oracle Cloud Data): Oracle is a technology conglomerate that designs and produces data network systems for businesses. Not only does Oracle team up with a large number of third-party data brokers, but the company also has its own database of consumer information. You can opt out of Oracle’s data collection program on their website.
- Acxiom, LLC: Acxiom is one of the largest data brokers. Acxiom collects a huge number of personal details about hundreds of millions of consumers from all over the world. For example, the broker might aggregate data like your political beliefs, health issues, and even your religious beliefs. Acxiom then sells information to businesses in sectors like finance or telecommunications. The company gives consumers the ability to opt out of its data collection program.
- Equifax Information Services, LLC: In addition to being a data broker, Equifax is one of the top three credit reporting agencies in the United States. The company collects consumer financial information that businesses can use to create targeted marketing campaigns. Investors can also use the information to gauge whether they should back an organization. To start the process of opting out of Equifax’s data collection program, you have to opt out of their marketing emails and their prescreened credit card offers.
- Experian, LLC: Experian is also one of the big three credit reporting bureaus in the United States. Like Equifax, Experian provides useful financial and personal information to both businesses and investors. Follow instructions on their website to opt out of Experian’s advertising program. You’ll need to opt out of their credit card offers separately.
- CoreLogic: CoreLogic collects information about things like which properties consumers own and how they spend their money. CoreLogic sells information to businesses and provides consumer data to real estate companies to help them screen potential tenants. You can opt out of CoreLogic on their website.
What personal information do data brokers collect?
By using various sources, data brokers can aggregate a lot of information about you. This information can be used to create user categories that businesses can market to. For instance, if you visit websites that sell baby products, the broker might put you into a category like “new parents.”
Some of the information that brokers collect might be things you’d like to keep private. For example, a broker might collect sensitive data about health issues, past bankruptcies, or legal issues.
Sometimes, brokers may place you in the wrong category. Let’s say you’re buying a new cookware set as a birthday gift for your mother. You check out several cooking sites before purchasing your set. If the broker sees that you’ve visited cooking sites and purchased cooking products, they may place you in a category like “cooking enthusiasts” even though you brought the gift for your mother.
Here are some personal details that a broker can collect to create a consumer profile of you:
- Full name
- Contact information (like your phone number and email)
- Home address and where you’ve lived in the past
- Marital status and family situation, including children
- Social Security number (SSN)
- Level of education
- Purchase habits
- Interests and hobbies
- Criminal record
- Political preferences
- Health history
How data brokers use your information
Businesses are always looking for useful consumer information. Purchasing consumer data from brokers helps them tailor marketing campaigns to the demographics that are most likely to buy their products.
Let’s say you’re a fan of virtual reality (VR) gaming. You’ve watched countless YouTube videos about the subject, and you’ve searched Amazon for VR headsets multiple times. You’d likely be an ideal consumer for a company that manufactures VR headsets or a company that creates VR games.
Other companies might use your data for risk mitigation. For example, a bank might use your personal financial history to determine whether you’re likely to default on a mortgage loan.
How to protect your data from data brokers
There are a variety of public records and sources that data brokers can use to gather information about you. The good news is that there are some things you can do to limit the amount of personal information they can access:
- Be selective about what you share online. Don’t overshare personal information on social media. Avoid things like online quizzes and sweepstakes.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) whenever possible. A VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your data while you surf the web. McAfee’s Secure VPN protects your personal data and credit card information so you can browse, bank, and shop online without worrying about prying eyes (like data brokers).
- Use a Tor browser like the Tor Project or The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) to hide your actions online. Tor browser users remain anonymous online, but may sacrifice some connection speed.
There are also a few organizations you can join to protect your information:
- Visit OptOutPrescreen.com. The Consumer Credit Reporting Industry site helps consumers opt out of prescreened credit card and insurance offers.
- Sign up for DMAchoice to get your name removed from telemarketing lists and direct marketing campaigns.
- Join the National Do Not Call Registry to avoid telemarketers.
Discover how McAfee’s leading identity protection software can help
Data brokers are always looking for ways to get their hands on your personal information. Many reasons businesses want access to your personal data aren’t malicious. They simply want to provide you with a targeted advertising experience and introduce you to products you might like.
However, the more your personal information gets shared online, the more chances cybercriminals have to get their hands on it. There might also be some sensitive information you don’t want to share with businesses in general. If you’re careful about what you post and take steps to protect your cybersecurity, you’ll greatly reduce the amount of data that a broker can collect from you.
With McAfee’s Total Protection services, you can get a secure online experience for your whole family. Our all-in-one protection suite comes with features like a secure VPN, premium antivirus software, identity monitoring, and up to $1 million in identity insurance and restoration.
McAfee can help you safeguard data like financial records and health care information so you can have less stress online. You’re meant to enjoy the internet — and we’re here to help make that a reality.
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