Data Brokers: The Grim Reapers of Personal Privacy

At Orchard, we spend a lot of time online. I mean a lot of time. So with all the recent controversy around data breaches, we decided to do our own research into how to best protect our data while online.

But the more research we did, the more uncomfortable we became about a whole new group of companies: data brokers.

Never heard of a data broker?

You’re not the only one – these companies lurk in the shadows of our digital economy.

They buy or collect data from wherever they can (government databases, credit card purchase data, loyalty card data, etc) compile it, and then sell it anyone who’s willing to pay.

And we’re talking about a lot of data: Axciom – the largest data broker – markets themselves as having an average of 1,500 data points for every person in their database. Last year, they earned nearly $1 billion selling this data.

Curious what this data looks like?

It includes things like your Social Insurance Number, family members’ birthdays, religion, political affiliation, voting history, medical information, sexual orientation, court history, etc. You name it, they have it on file and are shamelessly selling it.

Most of the folks who buy this data do it to show you better ads. However, it’s also made available to any individual who is willing to pay for it. The image below shows how some of these transactions work.

In our opinion, this group of companies represents the single largest contributor to the breakdown in consumer privacy. But don’t trust us: Tim Cook (Apple’s CEO) agrees with us and has called for regulation.

The response from regulators? Silence.

Looks like we’re going to have to save ourselves. The only catch is that this takes quite a bit of legwork.

That being said, if you’re inspired to take on the data brokers and protect your digital privacy, the fine people at Motherboard have put together a fairly comprehensive list to get you started!

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