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Data Brokers, Their Methods, and How to Protect Your Identity in the Digital Age


In today’s digital world, data is the new oil that powers millions of applications. Much of this data is harmless and even helpful for individuals. An example would be salary information such as that available on Levels. FYI for those compare compensation plans.

We’re going to focus on those that specifically aggregate and sell consumer information such as names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, demographics, and purchase data. Data brokers offer valuable services to businesses, but they also raise significant privacy concerns, especially in the wake of numerous data breaches. Let’s explore what data brokers are, where they obtain their data, how they use it, and discuss the implications for individuals.

We’ll also delve into identity monitoring and opt-out services as a means of protection.

What are Data Brokers?

Data brokers are businesses that collect and sell personal information about individuals to third parties. They gather data from various sources, both online and offline, to build profiles on millions of people. Companies, marketers, and advertisers often use this data to target consumers with tailored products and services. This information also gets sold to solicitors such as collections agencies as well as call centers. If you have been called about an extended auto warranty or a real estate investor trying to buy your home, then you most likely, have experienced this.

Where Do Data Brokers Get Their Data?

Data brokers gather information from many sources, many data brokers are companies you trust and use on a daily basis:

  1. Government records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, and property ownership records are a goldmine for data brokers.
  2. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are rich sources of personal information, including demographics, interests, and social connections.
  3. Data brokers use cookies/tracking technologies, such as cross-channel browser fingerprinting, to monitor individuals’ browsing habits, online purchases, and search history.
  4. Many companies collect consumer information through surveys, often in exchange for discounts or rewards. A perfect example of this would be Publishers Clearing House.
  5. Some businesses, like loyalty programs and online retailers, sell or share customer data with data brokers. This even includes trusted credit card companies and major banks.

What Do Data Brokers Do with the Data?

Data brokers create comprehensive profiles of consumers. These profiles can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  1. Targeted advertising: By analyzing consumer behavior, data brokers help advertisers deliver targeted ads to potential customers.
  2. Credit scoring and risk assessment: Financial institutions, as well as lenders, use data broker services to assess creditworthiness and evaluate potential risks.
  3. Background checks: Employers and landlords may rely on data brokers to verify the backgrounds of job applicants and tenants.
  4. Fraud detection: Banks and e-commerce companies use data broker services to identify and prevent fraudulent transactions which lead to chargebacks.
  5. Data appends: Many companies have datasets with missing information such as names and addresses but may be missing phone numbers. Data append companies will match back the missing information so companies can contact their prospects and customers across all channels.

Examples of DataBrokers

  • Any major credit card company you use, American Express, Capital One, Visa, Mastercard, and all the top banks.
  • In a similar fashion to the bullet above, store rewards cards from companies like Kohls, Target, Nordstrom, and hundreds of others are also used to gather purchase data.
  • Major data aggregation networks like Acxiom, Epsilon, PeopleDataLabs, CoreSignal, Experian, Transunion, and AudienceAcuity. These companies partner directly with publisher networks and applications that give them direct access to identity information and demographic data.

Data Breaches A Growing Concern for Individuals

These vast repositories of personal information make them attractive targets for cybercriminals. Numerous high-profile data breaches involving data brokers resulted in the exposure of sensitive information for millions of individuals. Putting victims at risk of identity theft and financial fraud raises questions about the security practices of data brokers.

Data breaches are getting larger and more frequent

Major Data breaches

  • Facebook – In 2021 a file of 500million facebook users got exposed. This included phone numbers as well as names, dates of birth, gender and other personal information.
  • People Data Labs – In 2019 a file with 1.2 billion consumer records was exposed. This included 622million consumer emails, phone numbers, and social media profiles.
  • – In 2019 a file with 763 million consumer email addresses was exposed by email verification service This also included names, phone numbers, ip addresses, dates of birth, and gender.

A great resource to see if you have been exposed in a breach is HaveIBeenPwned.

Identity Monitoring and Opt-Out Services

Many individuals are seeking ways to protect their personal information. Identity monitoring services can help by tracking the use of personal data and alerting users to suspicious activities. Additionally, some data brokers offer opt-out services, allowing individuals to remove their information from the broker’s database. However, the effectiveness of these services can vary, and opting out from one data broker does not guarantee protection from all.

Some popular identity-monitoring services

  • LifeLock By Norton – This service is the standard in the industry and has been specializing in identity protection for years.
  • Experian Lifelock – This is another popular identity monitoring service. Note that Experian is also a major data broker.
  • Aura – This service is one of the newer companies to the block. They offer a lot of features vs. focusing on one thing.

Popular data opt-out services

  • DataSeal Privacy – This is one of the newer, more innovative companies in the data removal space. They cover around 80 of the top people search networks and data brokers. You can try their free privacy scan by using the link above.
  • Experian – In addition to identity monitoring, they also offer consumer data removal from about 35 people search websites. Just for additional context, this is also a major data broker.
  • DeleteMe – This is one of the older companies in the data removal space.

Data brokers are a significant part of the modern data-driven economy, but their practices also raise important privacy concerns. With the growing number of data breaches, it is crucial for individuals to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect their personal information by understanding how data brokers operate and how to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.


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