What are Data Brokers? Learning More About Your Digital Shadow

Information has become an online currency. Your browsing habits, who you interact with, and where you shop become data points companies can use to market to your behaviors. How did they obtain this information? One way is through data brokers.

What are Data Brokers?

Think of a data broker as an online investigator, who conducts research on you, collecting data which they can supply to third-parties. Amul Kalia, an intake coordinator for Electronic Frontier Foundation told Motherboard, “Most have no idea who these companies are and how they get their data on them, and they would be very surprised to know the intimate details that these companies have collected on people.”

How Do They Collect My Data?

Because companies place a high value on information, the demand spawned many sites which make it easy for brokers to collect information. One way they do this is through websites such as Spokeo, where they can easily access your address, phone number, court records (if any exists) and more. From there, they can build a digital profile they can sell to companies.

MotherBoard notes another way data brokers work is with subsidiaries of credit bureaus like Equifax to develop a profile on an individual. From there, organizations can categorize people based on a wide variety of data points including education, age, income level, and more. They will also buy access to your email address and phone number for marketing purposes.

These are the two most intrusive ways data brokers can gather your data. And as you can imagine, the more exposure your data has, the more risk it has of being accessed by the wrong people.

Illustration by Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Dangers of Data Brokers

The problem with data profiling is it can create situations where companies place you in high-risk categories, according to MotherBoard. One example they give is some lenders might target you for high-interest loans whereas you can qualify for lower interest ones.

Another problem is what you search for could follow you around. NPR reports if you search for heart disease even to understand the symptoms more, that could become part of your digital biography from which advertising companies will use to categorize you. Essentially, you could become someone who “exhibits signs of heart disease.”

Of course, all this pales in comparison to other dangers that could happen. When a company harvests your data, they could sell it to a third company and from there that information could go anywhere. It could land upon a hacker’s computer. From there, they could use your data to deploy malware, impersonate you to people you know, even steal your identity. And because there are no privacy safeguards in the U.S. this all goes unregulated.

How Do I Protect My Data?

The first steps are to ensure you’re protecting your device. This includes updating all software as it becomes available, investigating app permissions before downloading, having a firewall and antivirus protection in place, and practicing smart online behaviors.

Another option is you can pay to remove your information from sites like MyLife. DeleteMe is a service that removes your information from data brokers for an annual fee of $129. While it shouldn’t be right to charge to have your data removed, this is an option to consider to give you peace of mind.

Meanwhile, data loss can come at any time. And if it happens, you need a trusted team to act quickly to retrieve your data; this is why Outsource Data Recovery can help you. Our team is adept at making timely recoveries on a wide variety of devices. Learn more about our services by contacting us today.