The data broker industry is somewhat of an anomaly in that they want you to know as little about the industry as possible. Despite being the arbiters of a personal information marketplace worth billions, they want as little publicity as possible, and they make it extremely difficult to remove personal information from Google.
There’s a simple reason for that: What they do tends to make people really uncomfortable. What they do, as their title suggests, is collect, buy, and sell personal information about people. Not just information like your age, general location, basic interests, but also some shockingly personal information as well. And perhaps as unsettling as the information they gather is how they gather it.
Don’t despair, though. You’re not without recourse or options, and fortunately there are ways to remove personal information from Google. That said, here are a few ways data brokers gather your private information and make it public.
It’s no surprise that purchases are tracked, which can legitimately provide relevant product or service suggestions based on your past purchases. But it’s not just helping the company you bought a product or service from online. Many websites, including retail outlets and others, will also sell your info to other advertisers, retailers, and data collection or retention entities. That can seem harmless enough—except that most people would probably prefer their history with websites not be shared when those sites involve an illness they suffer from, an addiction, adult purchases, personal debts, or anything else with a stigma attached to it.
Even brick-and-mortar businesses participate in this information marketplace. They will often ask for your email address when you complete a purchase. This is exactly the kind of information that data brokers will pay for.
As uncomfortable as the thought of a website sharing your preferences, quirks, and browsing history is, those sites often invite friends. A site, particularly big ones that get a lot of traffic, often allow a dozen or more third parties to observe your web browsing. So there’s a good chance that every time you’re on the internet, you have picked up a whole crowd of third parties tracking your movement to record interests, habits, demographic information, and anything else they can learn. These third parties then sell your personal data and information to other data brokers.
Another sneaky back door through which data brokers can collect your information is app downloads. For instance, two apps with well over a billion downloads combined, Angry Birds and “Brightest Flashlight Free,” are indeed free. That is, unless you count the permission downloading those apps gives to the companies offering them to track everything you do online and sell it to other companies.
And that’s just the legal sneaking. The company responsible for an app called “Path Social” was fined $800,000 by the Federal Trade Commission after they were caught hacking their users’ digital address books and stealing their contacts’ information. It’s good they were caught, but apps are still a very poorly regulated corner of the electronic universe.
Believe it or not, even state governments get in on data brokering. Over the last several years, stories have broken from states all over the country outed for selling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of data. Because so much about the legality and ethics of data brokering hasn’t been established, in a number of these states public officials are trying to figure out whether or not selling that information is even legal.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Thankfully, the average consumer is not without options, and there are resources on how to remove personal information from Google. You can close accounts you’re not using, look up the big data brokering firms and request an “opt-out” from their databases, or you can find a reputable and competent company to expedite your private information being removed from those collecting it. These professionals can help keep your personal information private and take the stress of tracking down and removing your personal information off your shoulders.
Based out of Boston, DeleteMe is working to make the internet a better, safer place by putting users back in control of their data. Led by consumer protection, privacy, and identity theft experts, they are passionate about offering user-friendly privacy solutions. From password and payment security to removal from Whitepages, DeleteMe is here to help keep your personal information private.
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