The Data industry, in which data brokers collect personal data from your online and offline behavior, tries to work behind-the-scenes as much as possible. Even though it is worth billions of dollars, they rely on your lack of knowledge to keep collecting and profiting off your data.
This is because if you knew how they did it, you’d be really creeped out. Data brokers collect, buy, and sell personal information, like your age, physical location, basic interests, and also some shockingly personal information–like financial status or sexual orientation. The worst part is: we’re giving them this data, without even thinking about it.
Some data brokers specialize in building online profiles of you, and posting it online. Have you ever Googled yourself and found websites posting information like your name, age, and address? Those websites are run by data brokers. Fortunately, there are ways to take back control of your data and remove personal information from Google. Here are a few ways data brokers make your private information public, and how to make it private again.
Another sneaky back door through which data brokers can collect your information is app downloads. For instance, two apps with well over a billion downloads combined, Angry Birds and “Brightest Flashlight Free,” are indeed free. That is unless you count the permission downloading those apps gives to the companies offering them to track everything you do online and sell it to other companies.
Often apps open up a back door for data brokers to collect your information. Do you always read the privacy policies of the apps you download? You might have given them permission to track all of your behavior, and sell it to other data brokers.
That’s a legal way of sneaking. There are also apps that went too far, like an app called “Path Social”. It was caught hacking their users’ digital address books and stealing their contacts’ information, and was fined $800,000 by the Federal Trade Commission. It’s scary to think of the other apps that don’t get caught, and how poorly regulated the apps can mine your data.
You probably know that the website you’re visiting is monitoring your behavior. But what you might not know is that other trackers are also allowed on those sites. Every time you’re on the internet, you’re being followed by trackers trying to find your location, interests, habits, demographic information, and anything else they can find. Then, these trackers sell your information to other data brokers, taking it even further out of your control.
You probably already know that your online purchases are being tracked, which can provide actual product or service suggestions based on your purchase history. But that’s not the only reason the company is following your behavior. Most websites, especially shopping sites, also sell your information to other advertisers, retailers, and data brokers. Serving you ads can seem harmless, except that they could also sell information about their health status, addictions, adult purchases, financial position, or other private details.
Even brick-and-mortar stores are participating in the data broker industry. If they ask for your email address, it’s not just to send you your receipt or coupons: they’re trying to open up a new way to track you.
While you might have already known about online trackers, you would probably be surprised to hear that even the state government has a hand in data brokering. Whenever you interact with public institutions, for example by getting married or registering your vehicle, your information is added to the public record. Some data brokers, such as Whitepages, specialize specifically in using these public records to create online listings for you. The listings will include your name, age, address, relatives’ names, and more.
If you Google yourself, it’s likely that these websites will be some of the first to pop up. And this information is exactly what criminals are looking for when they’re looking to steal your identity, commit financial fraud, or stalk you: and it’s all a quick search away. While it is deeply unsettling, because the data broker industry is still largely unregulated, it is unfortunately completely legal.
How Can You Stay Private?
The good news is, there are ways to opt out of these data broker sites and remove personal information from Google. Look up the biggest data broker sites and make individual requests to remove your listings from their databases. This can take a lot of time and effort: each site has its own procedure to remove your information, and they don’t make it easy. And even after you’ve successfully removed your information, they might re-post it after just a few months.
It can be much easier to find a reputable and expert privacy company, like DeleteMe, to do the work of removing your information from data broker sites for you. DeleteMe can help you get back in control of your personal information. Their experts will take over the stress of finding and removing your personal data, saving your privacy and your peace of mind.
DeleteMe is working to make the internet a safer place by putting users back in control of their data. Led by consumer protection, privacy, and identity theft experts, they are passionate about offering user-friendly privacy solutions. From password and payment security to removal from Whitepages, DeleteMe is here to help keep your personal information private.