Companies Sell Your Information, But Won't Show It to You

If you've ever downloaded a free app or screensaver, "Liked" a Facebook page, or just surfed the Internet, someone has probably harvested your personal information and possibly sold on the open market.

Secret Data Brokers Gather and Sell Your Info

The relatively new and unregulated Consumer Data Industry collects, stores, analyzes and sells billions of pieces of information about consumers each year to marketers and others, according to the New York Times. This includes your online browsing and mobile phone habits, as well other information.

...its database contains information [sic] about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the United States.

You may not even know who these Data Brokers are, let alone what information about you they sell to anyone who will pay for it. And they appear to like it that way. Ever heard of the Acxiom Corporation or Epsilon Data Management? Didn't think so.

Previously, we blogged about the "tracking" technology that some of these companies use to gather your information, often without your knowledge, let alone your consent. You can read about Trackers here and how they affect you:

Want to See What They're Saying About You? Good Luck

Want to know what they've got on you? Apparently, these companies have widely different practices when it comes to dealing with the consumers whose information they are profiting from. According to the New York Times, some will only provide you with general information about you, not the details that are sold on the open market.

The problems that bad information about you could cause are numerous. One company was apparently caught selling information about individuals to potential employers. This is like the days when credit reporting bureaus would not reveal the information they had to consumers. That information was often inaccurate. Now they are required to let consumers not only view, but also correct errors.

Opting Out, Sort Of

Some of the companies let you opt-out of targeted advertising that originates with them or even remove your information. But you might have to opt-out all over again if you ever delete your cookies, change browsers or buy a new computer, or surf from a different computer.

Congress Wants to Know

The Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus has sent Letters of Inquiry to nine major data brokers, asking how they collect, assemble and sell consumer information to third parties. Although the caucus does not have subpoena power, other industries have cooperated at this level in the past.