How Data Brokers Sell Your Identity (& Profit From IT)

By
Vladimir Kubikov
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5
min read
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Data has become a lucrative commodity in today’s digital ecosystem. It’s the driving force behind the phenomenal success of platforms like Facebook and the reason why companies like Google and Amazon are keen to learn about you and your preferences.

Every piece of data a platform gathers about you equips advertisers and marketers with more tools to sell their products. Microtargeting and intrusive ad tracking are by-products of this massive data exchange. But not all data collection services prioritize your interests. In fact, many purposely mine data from the web to sell to other entities. Now, a particular platform is drawing attention for its eye-catching web design and massive database of contact information. Here’s how to remove your data from this platform.

This data broker is more than it appears to be

If you aren’t familiar with data brokers, you should be — because they’re definitely familiar with you. These platforms collate data on individuals for research, investigation, and marketing purposes. After amassing a considerable number of profiles, they often sell the data to advertisers and other brokers for high prices.

Entities such as advertisers, insurers, and medical establishments utilize this information (also referred to as big data) for a range of purposes, including compiling statistics, understanding human behavior, and studying consumer trends. Many organizations employ this data to obtain background information on potential employees, and even landlords occasionally use this data to scrutinize potential tenants.

So, what personal information do data brokers collect?

Data brokers might sell sensitive information like your:

  • Full name
  • Home address (including previous ones)
  • Telephone number
  • Email addresses
  • Age and gender
  • Social security number
  • Homeowner or renter status
  • Income
  • Education level
  • Occupation
  • Employer
  • Marital status
  • Medical status
  • Net worth
  • Number of children
  • Race and nationality
  • Political affiliation
  • Beliefs
  • Interests
  • Products you prefer and purchase
  • Types of devices you use
  • Shows and movies you watch
  • Conversations (captured via your devices)
  • Messages you send and your online posts
  • Your contacts, friends, and family
  • Your travel patterns and timings
  • Your preferred mode of transportation

This data can enable data brokers and their clients to deduce almost anything about you: your

risk-taking propensity, whether you’re trying to conceive, if you’re more likely to purchase ice cream because you’re undergoing a breakup (and even your preferred ice cream flavor). They can predict who you’ll likely vote for, whether you’ll venture out this weekend, and even if you’re currently down with the flu.

Feeling uneasy yet? It’s important to understand the two types of data brokers and how they typically handle your data:

First-party data brokers

First-party data brokers are companies you interact with because you use their product or service. You may not realize that each time you use their product, your data is being collected. These can be credit card companies, social media platforms, search engines, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), mobile network operators, among others. They often auction your data to the highest bidder or directly resell your data.

Third-party data brokers

Third-party data brokers have no direct connection with you. Their entire business revolves around acquiring your data from first-party brokers and reselling it. These companies often employ scripts and crawler bots to collect thousands of “data points” for each consumer in their database.

Sometimes, the data is anonymized and collated into data for thousands of consumers with similar profiles. At other times, it’s more personalized individual data linked to your name or email address. These personalized profiles sometimes surface on regular search engine results, showcasing a snippet of information about you with the promise of more for a fee.

Third-party data brokers source your data from various outlets, such as:

  • Social media activity
  • Cookies
  • IP address tracking
  • Purchase history and warranty information
  • Credit card information
  • Public records (This includes everything from your driver’s license and motor vehicle records to census data, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and even voter registration information)

How data brokers acquire your data

In truth, you’re likely providing your data unwittingly. As you surf the web, cookies and tracking scripts from websites you visit are ceaselessly documenting your online activity.

Even if you reject or entirely clear cookies, brokers have other means to track you. While some private browsers and plugins offer ways to block tracking scripts, they’re not foolproof. When you access an online service or website, they can see your IP address and use it to gather information about you. Thankfully, a VPN can help you avoid this. CyberGhost VPN conceals your IP address and substitutes it, making your real IP untraceable!

How to safeguard your data

Whether you’re using a computer or a smartphone, data protection is essential. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Use a privacy browser
  • Use encrypted messaging software
  • Use a VPN app
  • Use tracker-blocking browser plugins

Is all of this legal?

A majority of this data gathering and selling is indeed legal, primarily due to a simple fact. Like most individuals, you probably didn’t go through the terms and conditions while using online services like social media platforms and search engines. Don’t feel guilty, it happens to the best of us.

However, always bear in mind that you possess rights. In certain jurisdictions, such as the EU and specific US states, you are entitled to request the deletion of your data.

Europe

The GDPR regulation grants anyone in the EU the right to withdraw their consent for cookies at any given time and the “right to be forgotten,” which implies the removal of their data from a company’s database. Businesses can be slapped with multi-million Euro fines for non-compliance with GDPR. Yet, even when data brokers are obligated to abide by stringent data laws, they have alternate ways to identify and track you online.

United States

In some states, data brokers based in the US are required to register with the state and adhere to certain data security standards. This implies that consumers can at least identify which companies are functioning as data brokers within the US.

Still, on a global scale, data protection is not the norm. In other countries, including most of the United States, your ISP can track and even sell your data to advertisers — including your search history.

The era of data brokers raises serious concerns over privacy, as individuals’ personal information is increasingly harvested, analyzed, and sold in the quest for profit. This commodification of data, a precious resource in today’s digital age, raises crucial questions about the security and sanctity of personal information. Notably, the regulation around data brokerage varies by region, with some jurisdictions offering more robust data protection than others. However, regardless of where you reside, it’s crucial to stay informed and vigilant about data privacy. It’s essential to proactively implement safeguards such as VPNs, privacy browsers, and encrypted messaging software to protect your data. Remember that while data can be a potent tool for businesses, it remains a personal commodity, and its protection should be a priority for everyone in the digital ecosystem.

If you are uncertain about the whereabouts of your company’s data, its protection status, or if you wish to gain better control over it, the right tools are necessary. AINSYS instantly connects and accesses your data from anywhere using AINSYS.
With AINSYS’s pre-existing connectors, you can initiate a data flow and gain a comprehensive understanding of your data distribution within minutes. Looking to customize to fit your requirements? Use our no-code Graphical User Interface (GUI) to define your business logic as per your preferences. This process will normalize your data in a matter of minutes. For more information, visit our website: https://ainsys.com/

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