The line separating private and public information is blurred by the internet. Sometimes, you have no idea which data gets exposed by the simplest actions. Additionally, people share stories about their lives and tend to get personal. Thus, platforms like social media are goldmines for anyone wishing to learn more about specific individuals.
You may not have thought much about the data available about you online, but after learning what details data brokers gather about you, you might change your mind. Data brokers are agents who buy and sell information about you to the highest bidder. Before we get deep into what data these brokers sell, let’s investigate what they are.
Data Brokers: Who are They?
They collect user information from multiple sources online. Using the info gathered from several data points, they create your consumer profile that is shared with businesses and, sometimes, anyone willing to pay.
While it’s legal, the roots of data brokerage lie in questionable business practices. Data brokerage came into being during that period of internet history when people would share information online freely.
It’s important that you know data brokers don’t collect their information only from social media. Digitized public domain sources uploaded on the net form another major source of information for data brokers. Several types of public records are available online, from court hearings to university records data brokers rummage through for personal information. Let’s investigate them now.
When someone is born, the town, the county, or the state issues a birth certificate in the United States. Being legal public records, such certificates can be accessed by others when they request. They may find access to birth certificates collected by online aggregators who have gathered them from various states and consolidated them.
Birth records can, of course, reveal a lot of personal information, like an individual’s full name as well as date and place of birth. Moreover, birth certificates also reveal much more data like information about the parents, race and religious affiliation, sex, and the hospital the person was born at. They can also retrieve information about one’s family, including the age of children in the household, upcoming birthdays, sports, and other details.
Depending on the state you are in, your voter registration details may be available to the public, which includes data brokers. It’s because your state may consider its public data. Voter registration records carry a lot of information about you that’s personally identifiable, like your name, your address, your birthday, and of course, your political affiliation.
There are certain groups, like domestic violence victims or those who have suffered violent crimes, that are given the option for more privacy for their safety. Despite that, the voter registration information of a vast majority is there to be shared with political parties, journalists, businesses, candidates, law enforcement, government officials, and data brokers waiting to pounce on them.
Your social and personal networks are reflected quite a lot in the place you studied at. It can also give indications about your earning potential and experiences. It is the reason why school records remain one of the most sought-after types of publicly available information for data brokers. It also happens to be one of the pieces of information most easily available online.
Apart from checking your social media profiles, alumni memberships, school promotional events, or the list of board passers for certification exams are accessed by data brokers to know your school affiliations.
Most of the records maintained by the courts in the US are available to the public. Some court records that may be considered confidential either in law or by a court ruling, like the proceedings that relate to children, adoption, mental health, and certain other subjects considered sensitive.
Court records stored in the federal courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system are easily accessible to data brokers. There are many records available on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service maintained by the US courts. It implies that anyone who has an account with PACER can look up court case information related to appellate, district, and bankruptcy, and that includes data brokers as well.
Think Data Brokers Know Too Much?
The gist is that data brokers know you better than people in your social circle. They can gather and combine different details to build extensive profiles. Thus, nothing seems to be off the table. They can know details like your sexual orientation, mental health, and income. And while most of the data-sharing might be benign, other situations can directly affect your physical well-being. Say, insurance firms purchase such data and can offer more unfavorable conditions for certain clients according to the received info.
The question is, how can you limit the reach of data brokers? Well, it is easier said than done. There are services that help you delete yourself from various locations online. However, you can also demand data brokers to delete the information they have about you. Knowing how many data brokers there are, it might be difficult to catch them all.
You should get a new hobby of reading the terms and conditions documents you see on different digital services. They might reveal that they cooperate with certain data brokers. Additionally, you can install tools like the Atlas VPN app to keep your activities more private online. A Virtual Private Network encrypted internet traffic and hides your real IP address. The latter also means that you conceal your location (that could be read from your IP address). While it is not a foolproof solution, it makes the internet a safer and more private place.
Users value privacy online more than ever before. We see this through different surveys, reports, and overall attitudes. Some users are even capable of dropping services they have used for years if it misuses their info.
With data brokers on the prowl, your personal information is up for sale. Of course, most of these details are already available to the public. However, what happens when all available information gets rounded up into one neat profile? To the very least, it reveals a lot about your life, both physical and digital.