Data brokers are everywhere on the Internet. They collect information about individuals from a variety of sources and then aggregate the data for others to access or purchase. The information originates from an individual’s activity that leaves a trail behind, such as purchasing merchandise, liking a social media post, buying a house, and registering to vote.
There are three main categories of data brokers: people search, consumer profile, and identity verification. A “people search” is a summary of personal information that a data broker aggregates from all over the Internet and displays on a dynamic webpage. A “consumer profile” takes the information and places the individual into a marketing category to push certain products and services. An “identity verification” service offers risk mitigation by analyzing data on an individual to verify accuracy and detect fraud.
In a people search, the data displayed on an individual’s profile often includes information from public records and social media. The information may also include details about an individual’s relatives and neighbors. As a data privacy concern, the information displayed on a profile could be ambiguous or inaccurate, which could have a negative effect on the person’s reputation. For example, the profile could say the individual has court records when it is only referring to a speeding ticket archived in the public records.
Information gathered by data brokers can potentially create problems for an individual. A criminal can gather an individual’s information to commit identity theft. Also, someone could use another’s personal information for bad purposes such as doxing, which is distributing an individual’s personal information without permission.
Data brokers may legally post “publicly available information” about an individual online. However, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), someone that pulls a consumer report cannot use the information for purposes such as credit, insurance, or employment screening. As an example, employers must get written permission from a job applicant or employee to use a consumer report. Also, employers must explain how they will use the information.
How To Opt-Out
Individuals can choose to “opt-out” of having their aggregated information displayed on a data broker’s website. Below are helpful links that explain how to opt-out of people search and marketing lists: