Know what data brokers have on you

Close-up on the iris and pupil of human eyeball.

Data brokers see much of consumers’ personal information. (CC BY/Thomas Tolkien/Flickr)

What makes you think you can go around all willy nilly, spreading your personal data and expecting that there will be no repercussions? Silly consumer. Corporations and data brokers freely exchange money for public data and purchase information. Do you know just how much they know about you?

ProPublica knows data brokering

New York City-based journalism non-profit ProPublica monitors businesses who regularly use data brokering, as well as the marketing firms (aka data brokers) who supply them with valuable demographic information. The information gleaned about consumers is used to tailor specific email and snail mail marketing and coupon mailers. Some call it junk email, or spam.

Data brokers that use you the most

Unless you specifically opt out – or choose not to shop at retailers that share info – data brokers will buy and sell your data. Some do this on more levels than others. According to Lifehacker, if you sign up for a Disney cruise or a stay at a Disney resort, not only with your name and address be shared, but age, occupations, and the number and ages of your children. ABC, ESPN, Honda, HarperCollins Publishing, Almay cosmetics and even the yogurt company Dannon are known data brokers that freely spread any data consumers supply, whether it be in person, over the phone, through mail or online through social media.

Can you protect yourself against data brokers?

If you’ve spread your personal information far and wide among marketers before, it is nearly impossible to completely expunge yourself from their records. Marketing services firms and data brokers like Epsilon are among the rare companies that actually allow consumers to review the information on file about them. Requests are typically inexpensive and made through postal mail.

Data broker RapLeaf goes a step further, in that it reportedly gives consumers “total control” over existing data on them, allowing them to review and even edit the data connected with a specific email address.

Privacy laws and the future for data brokers

Even if stronger privacy laws are passed which protect consumers going forward, experts suggest that it will still be difficult to find out exactly what corporations and data brokers have on you. The Federal Trade Commission has recommended that Congress pass a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that would give consumers the right to access data broker databases, but it is believed that such legislation would not actually pierce the veil of marketing secrecy.

“We think at the very least consumers should have access to the general categories of data the companies have about consumers,” said Maneesha Mithal from the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection wing of the FTC.

Data brokers would surely fight back

Data brokers would certainly be no fans of such legislation, and would surely back up their distaste with lobbying dollars. Grin and bear it, notes Rachel Thomas of the Direct Marketing Association. Even if the data on you is incorrect, “the worst thing that could happen is that you get an advertising offer that isn’t relevant,” she told ProPublica.

“The fraud and security risks that you run by opening up those files is higher than any potential harm that could happen to the consumer,” she added.





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