When you applied for a driver’s license or registered your car, you gave personally-identifying information to your local DMV — and probably didn’t think twice about it.
You might not know that thanks to a 1994 law, the DMV can sell your information, including your home address, to private investigators. The DMV also sells information to other third parties, including insurance companies, tow companies, credit reporting agencies and research databases, documents obtained by Motherboard show. Some states’ DMVs make tens of millions of dollars a year by selling this data, including California’s, which raked in $50 million in 2019 by selling personal info, Vice reported. Although some lawmakers have questioned this practice, the DMV’s activities are within legal bounds.
The DMV is not the only entity that’s selling your personal information — these 17 other companies might also give your information away for the right price. Find out who’s selling your info — and what you can do to protect yourself.
A number of companies operate as data brokers. These companies collect personal data about individuals from public records — driver’s licenses, voter registration, property records, change of address records, birth certificates, marriage licenses and bankruptcy records among them — plus social media sites and/or private sources, such as credit card issuers, financial institutions, retailers, healthcare providers and insurance companies. Brokers use this data to compile detailed individual profiles, which they then provide to third parties who can use the information to serve you targeted ads, contact you with personalized offers or verify your personal or financial information. Some data brokers are well-known companies, such as the three major credit reporting bureaus plus data giant Oracle, but there are others you might never have heard of. Here are just a few of the companies that operate as data brokers.
Acxiom is a “data foundation” that “has the most expansive and compliant data offering in the world, which now encompasses more than 62 countries, 2.5 billion addressable consumers and more than 10,000 attributes — for a comprehensive representation of 68% of the world’s online population,” the company stated in a release on its website. The company sells this data to marketers around the world.
2. Advantage Credit
Advantage Credit is a credit reporting service that provides data to mortgage lenders, brokers, banks, home equity lenders and others in the mortgage industry. Note that individuals must give authorization for their credit information to be shared with mortgage lenders, and information is only shared with clients that have a permissible purpose to obtain the information under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Backgroundchecks.com is a data broker that enables businesses and individuals to search for a person’s criminal history, addresses, contact information, driving records, bankruptcies, judgments, liens, property records, marriage and divorce records.
BeenVerified is a data broker that allows users to search for contact information, criminal and court records, vehicle records, property records and other personal details.
A business’ credit information can be obtained through data broker Cortera.
Equifax is one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. It collects data about millions of Americans, including their names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and credit card credentials. A 2017 data breach at Equifax exposed the personal information of more than 145.4 million Americans, Fast Company reported.
Experian is another one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The company has aggregated personal information for more than 1 billion people and businesses, which it sells through its data analytics and marketing services, Fast Company reported.
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HealthCare.com — which is different from the federal HealthCare.gov — allows users to compare healthcare plans. The site uses your information to provide consumer marketing for insurance companies, Fast Company reported.
Modernize is a home-improvement contractor marketplace that is also a data broker, Fast Company reported.
10. National Student Clearinghouse
National Student Clearinghouse is a nonprofit that verifies where people attended school and the degrees they earned, with the applicant’s consent.
Oracle Data Cloud launched its business-to-business audience data marketplace in 2016. Aimed at marketers, “Oracle Data Cloud’s B2B audience solution provides access to more than 400 million business profiles through thousands of B2B audience segments, thus creating a highly scalable and customizable targeting solution. In addition, more than 1 million addressable US companies add powerful account-based marketing (ABM) capabilities to a marketer’s targeting toolkit,” the company stated in a press release.
Spokeo is a data broker that allows users to search for an individual’s property records, court records, business records and social media pages. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined the company $800,000 for selling information for employment screening purposes without adhering to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fast Company reported.
Along with Equifax and Experian, TransUnion is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. It also acts as a data broker.
Whitepages is a data broker than enables users to find individuals’ contact info and conduct background checks.
Other Companies That Are Selling Your Information
You might not have directly given your personal information to any of the companies listed above, but they likely still have it. Then, there are other companies that you probably gave your personal information to voluntarily without thinking twice about how the data could be used.
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Unlike a data broker, Facebook is a “first-party data miner” — it collects information directly from you when you use its social networking and messaging apps. Facebook doesn’t outright sell your information, but it does share it.
The New York Times wrote this about Facebook: “For years it has struck deals to share the information with dozens of Silicon Valley companies. These partners were given more intrusive access to user data than Facebook has ever disclosed. In turn, the deals helped Facebook bring in new users, encourage them to use the social network more often, and drive up advertising revenue.”
Google has infiltrated nearly every part of our online lives. It’s a search engine (Google.com), an email platform (Gmail), a map app (Google Maps), a video-sharing giant (YouTube) and more, and it uses these tools to track users’ behaviors and personal attributes — data that it then uses to serve you targeted ads.
“Google is not a consumer software company, or even a search company. It’s an ad company,” Wired reported. “It collects exhaustive data about its users in the service of brokering ad sales around the web.”
Technically, Google doesn’t “sell” your information, but it does share and monetize it.
PayPal shares consumer data — name, address, phone number, date of birth, IP address, bank account information and recent purchases included — with hundreds of companies around the world. These companies include payment processors such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, auditors like KPMG, financial product providers like Deloitte, service providers such as Amazon Web Services and Salesforce, legal entities and government agencies. It also sells data to other marketers and publicists, including Google, Pandora and LinkedIn.
The California Consumer Privacy Act
It’s likely concerning to you that your personal data is being so freely traded through various platforms and data brokers — and it’s also concerning to numerous lawmakers, who are making efforts to regulate how data can be collected and sold. One legislation working to address this is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into effect on Jan. 1. The act regulates the sale of personal information and gives consumers the option to opt out of these sales by forcing companies to place a “do not sell my data” button on their websites, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported. Although this won’t prevent all companies from selling your personal data, it’s an impactful first step in the movement for privacy reform.
How To Protect Your Data
The California law won’t necessarily help people living outside the state. However, no matter where you live, you can be proactive about keeping your personal data safe. Although you likely won’t be able to keep all of your personal information private in our increasingly digital world, there are some actions you can take to protect your data:
- Request your data from the three credit bureaus and ensure your personal information is correct.
- Remove yourself from data brokers’ databases. This may entail visiting each individual broker’s site and opting out.
- Register for DMAchoice, which allows you to opt out of direct mail and email messages, and is used by some organizations to remove consumers from their lists entirely.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if you feel a company has unfairly used your data.
- Delete unnecessary apps.
- Use browsers with ad blockers or tracker blockers.
- Use a VPN when browsing the web.
- Limit what you post online.
- Avoid filling out consumer surveys. This information is sold to marketing companies.
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