We now live in the Information Age, where there are troves of information available at our fingertips.  Because of the power of computers, the Internet, and device connectivity, there are an untold number of data points being collected every day.  And powerful computers make the collection, storage, and processing of that information easier and faster.  

This has given rise to a whole new industry – data brokerage.  Estimates put the data broker industry at roughly $200 billion.   These firms cull personal information from public and private sources and make it available for little to no cost.

The FTC conducted a study of just nine data brokers and found “one data broker’s database has information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements; another data broker’s database covers one trillion dollars in consumer transactions; and yet another data broker adds three billion new records each month to its databases.” 

According to recent Senate testimony, some of the most common sources of consumer data include: (marketing, not credit data) Retailers and merchants via Cooperative Databases and Transactional data sales & customer lists; Financial sector non-credit information (PayDay loan, etc.); MultiChannel direct response; Survey data, especially online; Catalog/phone order/Online order; Warranty card registrations; Internet sweepstakes; Kiosks; Social media interactions (dependent on data broker interactions/agreements); Loyalty card data (retailers); Public record information; Web site interactions, including specialty or knowledge-based web sites; Lifestyle information: Fitness, health, wellness centers, etc.; Non-profit organizations’ member or donor lists; Subscriptions (online or offline content).

Data brokers typically sell this information for marketing purposes, risk mitigation, and people searches.  However, as the FTC has warned, “identity thieves and other unscrupulous actors may be attracted to the collection of consumer profiles that would give them a clear picture of consumers’ habits over time, thereby enabling them to predict passwords, challenge questions, or other authentication credentials.”

The problem is enormous and continues to grow, and because few laws governing these data brokers exist, a lack of transparency persists.  The federal government is starting to take notice, with lawmakers considering the Data Broker List Act, giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversight of a newly created national registry.  This has followed some state-led efforts to curb the activities of data brokers who peddle in consumer information.  

Because of this lack of oversight, there is a patchwork of ways that consumers can opt out of certain data broker collection efforts.  The average consumer typically finds this process cumbersome, resulting in few individuals who actually take the time to go through the opt-out process.  There are, however, steps that can be taken to limit your digital footprint and make it a worthwhile crusade.  

If you need help protecting yourself and your money from hackers and thieves, the BLACKCLOAK team is here for you.