Data Brokers: What They Know and how They Collect Your Data

may 15, 2020 | internet privacy
Data Brokers: What They Know and how They Collect Your Data

If data is the "new oil," do you know who's drilling wells and selling your data?

The answer is hard to nail down. The impact on your life is also challenging to measure without a full picture of the issue, and you’ll have to dig deep to uncover and limit what’s shared about you.

We all know that our credit reports and scores impact loan approval or rejection. Credit reporting bureaus are data brokers, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Social Media companies also mine data for their own use. Then there are hundreds of data brokers you wouldn’t recognize by name. There are even brokers who keep records of the prescriptions you take so they can sell those profiles to insurance companies.

Consumers don’t have much control over what’s collected or who views the information. There’s a cloak of secrecy at work, yet broker files can also impact your credit, as well as employment and the availability of life insurance.

Some brokers offer personal profiles directly to consumers, too, and they contain a wealth of records. These firms have been dubbed “people search” sites because consumers use them as people locaters.

Dig around on data broker sites, and you might be shocked by the findings. Enter a name with any available details you possess like age or try a search about yourself. The site might spit out data encompassing all residents at the address, estimated income, close relatives and more. “People search” sites are built on public records, including court documents, voter registration forms, and reams of other public data. Once you get a taste of what’s available, the firm may offer more background if you sign up for a free trial. Of course, it will then charge your credit card if you don’t cancel before that trial ends. 

If you find this disturbing, you’re not alone. Consider who else is using these sites. Anyone with a computer – including identity thieves – can collect information useful in impersonating you. With a simple call to your bank, thieves can then answer key questions about you in an attempt to reset passcodes and take over your financial accounts.

Cyberstalkers and blackmailers also welcome this sort of information. Most sites make users check a box indicating they won’t use the data for illegal purposes, but it’s an honor system.

How brokers do it.

Data brokers glean piles of valuable facts from loyalty card programs, surveys, social media and offline activity. Online browsing is another target. If you visit several medical websites searching for data about cancer, that might mark you as a potential health risk even if the research is for someone else. Businesses call it “risk mitigation.”

Marketers buy aggregated human profiles for online, offline or mobile advertising. Search new 4WD vehicles one afternoon, and watch tempting 4WD ads pop up on your laptop. Your name isn’t attached to these files, but your device’s IP or internet protocol address is. Targeted advertising and marketing are just two potential purchases of your profile. Others include government agencies.

Why does it matter?

Why should you care about these repositories of information? In addition to your physical safety, that profile could control vital elements in your life. It’s sometimes referred to as a consumer score. Buyers add it to your credit score to create a more nuanced profile of you.

While the Fair Credit Billing Act of 1970 gives consumers the right to view credit reports and to correct erroneous information, data brokers remain largely unregulated except in Vermont, which now requires brokers to register with the state.

The bottom line is, without regulation, there is no guarantee that the information kept by data brokers is even accurate.


It’s wise to assume your data can be misused. You should consider being proactive and removing it when possible. Some brokers offer “opt-out” buttons that delete you and your data from their database. That’s not to say that brokers always make it easy to find those buttons. You may find “opt-out” instructions boldly displayed on the company’s front webpage or have to dig into its privacy policy for details.

If you are interested in removing your personal information from data brokers, IDShield’s Licensed Private Investigators are available to walk members through this privacy protection effort

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. IDShield plans are available at individual or family rates. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.

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