Imagine you’re searching for a brand new car. Like any 21st century human, you surf the web looking for information about the latest makes and models. Many websites, such as www.cars.com allow you to enter your intended budget, location and other information in order to narrow down your search. But, do you really know where that personal information is going?
When you enter information online or browse common websites, data brokers including retailers, marketing and advertising organizations, and even government entities are retrieving your personal, private data.
What’s worse? The majority of these entities are collecting, analyzing and then bundling your information to be sold to other companies and organizations.
You mean that all of my information is being collected and sent to these corporations? That’s not cool.
Data Brokers Are Everywhere
A data broker, as defined by the 60 Minutes segment, is an entity that collects and sells our information to other data brokers, other organizations, and other companies for a profit. There are thousands upon thousands of data brokers online, this minute, collecting the information of individuals all over the world. The largest data brokers include Acxiom and Epsilon.
In fact, Epsilon continues to defend that it is not a data broker, yet a marketing company that uses data. Should you decide to watch the 60 minutes segment, you’ll see just how many data brokers are collecting your data, placing you into a vast array of lists, and selling these lists to retailers, advertisers and anyone willing to pay for the information.
Do you have a specific medical illness? I’d bet money that your information is listed along with the many others with that illness, and is sold to pharmaceutical companies, doctors’ offices and other medical organizations.
Although it may be fascinating to think that we can have intricate information about every single person on this planet, it can also be quite disturbing.
If you bought gas for your Toyota Camry at the Exxon Mobile gas station in your town while on your commute to work and you used a credit card, multiple data sources now know you did that. Used a credit card at Starbucks? Many organizations now know that you are a fiend for caramel lattes. Scary, isn’t it?
What’s even more alarming is that we rarely know what information these data brokers are collecting. The information you enter in an online form on a website is only the beginning. Data brokers are combining your many pieces of data to complete a full data profile for you. Yes, you.
So, What Do They Know About Me?
The simple answer? Everything you can think of. Okay, so maybe not everything. But nearly everything!
The amount of information collected by data brokers can include:
- Individual characteristics (hair color, eye color, height, weight)
- IP address
- Medical history
- Web browsing history
- Current location
- Personal interests
- Income level
- Marital status
- And so much more
Between the mobile apps you download tracking your every move (I’d delete Angry Birds if I were you), and the information collected about you online, your personal information is no longer safe and secure.
What Can I Do To Protect My Information?
You have two choices:
1) Go into hiding and never use the Internet, shop at a store or use a mobile phone again.
2) Use a service or plugin, such as Disconnect.me, to monitor and control what information you distribute online.
If you’ve watched 60 Minutes recently, you might have caught the feature on Disconnect, a service that allows Internet users to see what websites are tracking you and gathering information, and then block them. In addition, it also increases your page load time!
With the unimaginable amount of data being collected by these data brokers, wouldn’t you want to have some control over your information? Disconnect gives you the control to block or unblock certain websites/data brokers from receiving your information.
This is the future, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s be prepared to protect our privacy, individuality and personal data.