Data Brokers making billions peddling your information!

The data broker business model involves accumulating massive amounts of information about internet users and even some non-users and then on selling that information.

Data brokers create highly detailed profiles on hundreds of millions of individuals including ,contact information such as names email addresses mobile phone numbers etc.

Sometimes identity information such as ID card numbers driver license numbers passport numbers social security and tax numbers, financial information and credit ratings, health information and general information regarding a person’s age, ethnicity, gender, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, shopping habits, holidays taken etc.

These profiles come not just from data you’ve shared, but from data shared by others, and from data that’s been inferred using a variety of sophisticated algorithms.

In its 2014 report into the industry, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed how a single data broker had 3000 “data segments” for nearly every US consumer  and described the entire industry as “largely invisible”.
That’s no mean feat, given how much money is being made.

It is no surprise then that Facebook’s announcement last week that it would discontinue partner programs that allow advertisers to use third-party data from companies such as Acxiom, Experian and Quantium to target users went largely unnoticed. That’s despite  Acxiom alone forecasting a revenue just shy of $1 Billion for this year.


Based on the interests inferred from this data, consumers are then placed in categories that may involve all kinds of sensitive age/ethnicity/income/health tags or focuses.

This even includes offline data both demographic and behavioural from such sources as purchase history, home ownership status, loyalty card programs or surveys and others from a variety of private and public offline sources.

For years Facebook encouraged external developers to create content and gave them wide-ranging access to user data, and to users’ friends’ data , clearly violates standard norms of information flow”. Now this third party access to personal data is causing increasing concern. This lack of transparency and respect for user data applies to Facebook itself its third party app and content developers and especially data brokers such as Acxiom, Experian, Quantium and others.


 Legislation is currently lagging far behind the technological advances that have allowed data to be manipulated and exploited in such ways. With politicians in many countries now scrambling to be seemed to be taking proactive steps to combat the problem.

We should be seeing a whole raft of new legislation coming to pass in the next year or two. Hopefully it will be better thought out and less open to interpolations and abuse than other recent efforts.