Data brokers are making plenty of money by exchanging your personal info – here’s how to protect yourself

Consumer Watch

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Companies are secretly profiting by selling your personal information, information that’s obtained legally. They’re called data brokers and they are largely unregulated.

Data is defined as facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. But let’s look inside the computer. Data about you is being scraped from all over the internet and sold to anybody with cash, and they can use it however they want.

Sal Vetri is worried about his person data on the internet.

“I’d say probably a good amount based on the apps I have and the websites I have accounts for,” he said.

But it goes deeper than just apps.

Where you live, the price of your home, your estimated net worth, relatives’ names, ages and relationships to you, past addresses, mobile phone numbers, political affiliations, employers, court proceedings, and more are all out there on the net.

“All kinds of things get slurped up by data brokers and put into one nifty profile that is currently 100 percent legal for them to sell,” said Rob Shavell of DeleteMe.

Just how much information is out there?

Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia went to a data broker’s website, plugged in his name, and came up with six pages of information on him a free “teaser” without even buying the detailed profile that promised much more detailed information.

Who are data brokers? There are hundreds of them out there. Some are well-known names, some obscure. In many cases, we don’t know what information they store and who they are working with.

Nothing is stopping anybody from doing business with these data brokers at the retail level,” said Shavel. It’s just an eCommerce shopping cart transaction.

Lots of organizations are also buying from data brokers for all kinds of reasons such as:

•             Targeted Marketing
•             Employers
•             Insurers
•             Health care organizations and providers

Years ago, if you wanted to collect information on someone you had to physically go place to place collecting records. It could take forever.

“With the latest technology, big data technology, we can do that and provide it within seconds,” said Harrison Tang the CEO of Spokeo.

Spokeo sells data. For example, its customers include people looking to connect with others, such as adoptees searching for birth parents, or people who are trying to protect themselves from fraud.

“Some people use it to check their online date before they meet that person.,” said Tang. “Businesses use it for protection to catch scammers and making sure their customers are who they say they are.”

Spokeo says it collects things like your social security number–but encrypts it and only uses that number to help it link different data files to create a profile about you.

Tang said no client can request somebody’s social security or driver’s license number. At his service, that information is not for sale.

What if you don’t want to be in Spokeo’s data base?

The company offers an easy-to-find opt-out feature that eliminates your records. But many other data brokers make it quite difficult to remove your name from their collection efforts.

With hundreds of companies collecting data, finding all of them is nearly impossible.

A company like DeleteMe offers to do the work for you, for an annual fee of $129 a year.

“We have to keep track of which data brokers are going out of business, changing their names, or reconstituting themselves as a new entity,” said Shavell.

With all that information about you out there, it’s currently a data collection free-for-all with no universal regulation.

Raleigh resident Reneta Cooper wants to see more regulation of Data Brokers. “I absolutely do and I hope there will be something soon.”

Currently, Vermont has a law requiring data brokers to register with that state and limits some of their data collection activities.

The Biden Administration indicated it will propose some kind of data broker regulation nationally in the next year or two, as consumer groups call for regulation of the industry.

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