Who is Making Money from Your Personal Data?

This is the age of big data. Every website we click, web query we search or mobile app we use creates its own data stream.

Companies are investing more and more into using this unfathomably huge amount of data to learn about buyer activities and to tailor their product and service offerings to enhance their business model.

Big data can provide businesses with the insights that they need to yield better conversion rates and increase their revenues and profit margins.

This means that data is a highly valuable commodity, and the world of data brokerage is a lucrative business. But, just how much of your own personal data are you giving out, and who is making money from it?

Who is selling your personal data?

Data brokers extract public information including names, home addresses, purchases, browsing history, social media activity and even your credit card transactions, then they sell it on. It might sound shocking, but this is actually a perfectly legal activity.

Nevertheless, the industry is one that is shrouded in mystery, and brokers are notoriously secretive. Definitive statistics are hard to come by, but it is generally estimated that there are around 4,000 data brokers operating in the USA alone.

Who is buying your personal data?

For the most part, it is digital marketing companies that are interested in this sort of information, and they use it in campaigns that target specific demographics. The only consequence you are likely to see is some advertising materials, either in your inbox or through your front door, from companies you have never dealt with before. If you think anything before consigning them to the physical or virtual waste basket, it will probably be a passing curiosity as to how they got your contact details.

However, there is a growing concern that some data brokers will simply sell their information to anyone who wants it, and some high-profile incidents have added fuel to the fire. For example, one such broker sold a list of 19,000 verified elderly sweepstakes players to a group of fraudsters, who proceeded to steal more than $100 million by calling people on the list and masquerading as government or insurance officials and requesting their bank account details.

What can you do about it?

The short answer is “very little.” The major players in the industry are against government regulation, saying it will only serve as a barrier to those who play by the rules, while unscrupulous ones will simply ignore the regulations anyway.

There is a website where you can opt out, but again, this will only work with reputable companies that are less of a concern in the first place.

Ultimately, it remains our own responsibility to remain vigilant as to how we use and share our personal information, and to take care not only of ourselves, but also of our elderly and vulnerable friends and family.