Data brokers are corporations that collect huge amounts of personally identifiable information (PII) and package it all together to create ‘profiles’ or ‘listings’ with identifying tags. These tags include things like Social Security numbers, birthdays, past and recent addresses, and more. (For the full list, see Appendix B of this FTC Report.)
These information profiles are sold to advertisers, snoopers, marketers, employers, data mining corporations, and large insurance agencies at hefty prices. Even though you aren’t directly involved, and might not even know you have a ‘profile’ on this site, these people are profiting off of your information. In today’s world of big data, it makes sense that large companies would base their interactions with consumers on data. Yet, it also brings up a great deal of questions and concerns about privacy and fairness.
How do data brokers get your information?
Data brokers crawl the web searching for information, and use it to build a profile of you. They find this from government and other public records, self-reported information, social media, and other data brokers. Read more here.
Who are these data brokers?
There are many data broker sites out there. New data brokers are regularly appearing online, while older data brokers frequently rebrand themselves by creating new websites. The biggest data brokers include Whitepages, BeenVerified, Spokeo, MyLife, and Intelius.
Why are data brokers a problem?
Data brokers can help to facilitate ID theft, they can ruin job opportunities (or romantic dates), or even provide grounds for discrimination.
Most people are aware that our social media or our Google searches are recorded and used for specific advertisement targeting. The darker side of data collection lies in the data you consider to be private. Legally, there are very few online privacy laws in the US; it has mostly been left up to the states to create regulation.
As personally identifiable information shuttles around the world in unsecure data packets, the risk of identity theft skyrockets.
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