Whether you know it or not, every time you go online, someone is tracking what you’re looking at, where you’re going, who you’re calling, and what you’re buying—and then selling that information to other parties who want to know all about you. Those “spies” are called data brokers and it’s their job to follow you around.
What Is A Data Broker?
Data brokering companies are businesses that gather information on millions of consumers and individuals from all over the world in order to sell that data to marketing companies, retailers, advertising/branding agencies, the government, and even each other.
They mine that information from the Internet and your mobile devices—tracking your every move on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and other websites you visit. Also, your physical location information can be retrieved from the GPS location on your cell phone. They study and analyze names, likes, dislikes, income, friends, habits, movements, religion, ethnicity, medications, medical issues, sexual orientation … everything.
Most people don’t even know it’s happening. The reasons, however, are usually harmless. The majority of the data that brokers collect is purchased by businesses that have a product to sell. These businesses use this information to help them tailor their marketing campaigns to better zero in on your personal buying preferences. You may get their solicitations via an email blast, banner ad on a page you’re visiting, and an old-school catalog or flyer being mailed to your home. However, some of the information they collect, and who wants it, can indeed spell trouble.
Why You Should Be Worried
Data brokers take all of your information and break you down—yes, “you”—into categories to sell to the different companies. These companies are seeking different consumer lists based on what you buy and how often you buy it.
If you purchase dog food, they can put you in the pet owner category—and more specifically, dog owner. They can then sell your information to pet supply companies, dog groomers, veterinary clinics, and so forth. That’s all fine and dandy. After all, you have a dog and you’re going to need something from one of these entities at some point. So, you probably don’t mind getting the occasional banner ad, email, or snail mail catalog. But what about the non-innocent stuff? Stuff that involves your financial or medical data?
These companies don’t just send your data to other businesses, but also sell them to prospective employers, hospitals, colleges, and other entities. They could turn you or your loved ones down for medical or financial aid.
Things Data Brokers Know About You That Can Harm Your Career:
- Medical conditions
- Financial troubles
- Employment status
- Number of dependents
- Browsing history
- Political affiliations
- Religious beliefs
- Social media posts
- Purchase history
Were you ever out of work? Have you ever been late on or couldn’t pay a few bills? You could be rejected for a new job somewhere due to your bad credit or reputation. This could also affect your children’s chance of getting into a college or receiving a loan because you might be seen as someone who can’t pay off your loan or credit card company.
“Most colleges and universities use some sort of predictive analytics to figure out if a student will be able to pay for the full four years. There’s a score for that. Companies are applying aggregate credit scores (not FICO scores) to individuals.”
–Pam Dixon, executive director of the advocacy organization World Privacy Forum
These scores aren’t just used by schools, but also used by health insurance companies and prospective employers. If you have a history of financial troubles, pre-existing medical conditions, or you’ve been diagnosed with depression, alcoholism, or high blood pressure, you could be turned down for a job before you even get interviewed. You could also be made to pay higher premiums for medical insurance. No one likes liabilities, especially those dealing with large sums of money.
Did you ever post or repost something on social media that didn’t sit well with someone? Do you smoke? Are you currently out of the job market? Are you very overweight? All of these things could lead to you not getting a new job—or a promotion if you have a job.
A human resources employee could be looking at your online resume and running it through their system. They could be checking your social media profiles and seeing that you’re a smoker or a pot smoker, a drinker, a complainer, etc. Also, they could be putting your name through their purchased lists and seeing that you recently bought cartons of cigarettes or that you joined some wine-of-the-month club. These are things that put HR people off. They don’t want druggies and winos in their ranks, and they don’t want someone puffing away outside 10 times a day when they should be inside working.
The same thing goes for anyone with pre-existing medical conditions. They don’t want to hire someone who requires better health insurance—or a lot of it. Companies don’t want to invest in someone that may be out or late due to medical situations such as depression, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, pregnancy, etc. Yes, it’s illegal to hold prejudice over someone due to their “disabilities,” but you’d never know they were doing it.
Who Are The Biggest Data Brokers Today?
According to research, there are an estimated 4,000-plus data broker companies in the United States alone. One of the largest ones has over 23,000 servers set up to collect your information and analyze it for distribution.
While data brokering isn’t illegal, many of the companies that do so choose to keep a low profile due to how “shady” their service and operations may seem. However, one of the biggest, Acxiom, has been very open to discussing their service and reported that it made over $800 million in revenue a few years ago. Another broker named Take 5 Solutions stated that their data is culled from 17 different websites.
Some Other Major Data Brokers:
- Paramount Lists
- Exact Data
No Harm No Foul
Data brokering has been around for decades and it’s not going to go away thanks to the massive consumerism in America and abroad. While most of the data is used for harmless marketing, no one can say just how much that will change nor how much more invasive it might get. Obviously, with how technology changes, information gatherers will find newer and more submersive ways to mine your life for every bit of sellable data. The question is … just how much is too much and will you be okay with it?
Want to learn more about what’s going on in the tech world? Read our other blogs on Best Cell Phone Spy Apps!