An information broker (independent information professional, information consultant, or data broker) collects information, often about individual people. The data are then sold to companies that use it to target advertising and marketing towards specific groups, to verify a person’s identity including for purposes of fraud detection, and to sell to individuals and organizations so they can research particular individuals. Critics, including consumer protection organizations, say the industry is secretive and unaccountable, and should be better regulated.
Overview Beginning in the late twentieth (20th) century, technological developments such as the development of the internet, increasing computer processing power and declining costs of data storage made it much easier for companies to collect, analyze, store and transfer large amounts of data about individual people. This gave rise to the information broker or data broker industry.
Brokers collect information about individuals from public records and private sources including census and change of address records, motor vehicle and driving records, user- contributed material to social networking sites. Such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, media and court reports, voter registration lists, consumer purchase histories, most-wanted lists and terrorist watch lists, bank card transaction records, health care authorities, and web browsing histories. The data aggregated to create individual profiles; often made up of thousands of individual pieces of information.
Such as a person’s age, race, gender, height, weight, marital status, religious affiliation, political affiliation, occupation, household income, net worth, home ownership status, investment habits, product preferences and health-related interests. Brokers then sell the profiles to other organizations that use them mainly to target advertising and marketing towards specific groups, to verify a person’s identity including for purposes of fraud detection, and to sell to individuals and organizations so they can research people for various reasons.
Examples of Information Broker
Data brokers in the United States include Acxiom, Experian, Epsilon; CoreLogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, inome, PeekYou, Raplead, and Recorded Future. Acxiom claims to have files on 10% of the world’s population, with about 1500 pieces of information per consumer.
Individuals generally cannot find out what data a broker holds on them, how a broker got it, or how it will use. Some data brokers retain all information indefinitely.
Files on individuals are generally sold in lists; examples cited in testimony to the S. Congress include lists of rape victims; seniors with dementia, financially vulnerable people, people with HIV, and police officers (by home address). Less controversial are lists of rich people, doctors, or parents.
There are probably between 3500 and 4000 data broker companies, and about a third may provide opt-outs; with some charging over a thousand dollars for them.