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Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    ProPublica: Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You

    ProPublica takes an in-depth look at data brokers, companies that compile information on individuals and the sell or use that data for marketing or other purposes:

    Data companies are scooping up enormous amounts of information about almost every American. They sell information about whether you’re pregnant or divorced or trying to lose weight, about how rich you are and what kinds of cars you have. [...]

    But many people still don’t even know that data brokers exist.

    Here’s a look at what we know about the consumer data industry.

    How much do these companies know about individual people?

    They start with the basics, like names, addresses and contact information, and add on demographics, like age, race, occupation and “education level,” according to consumer data firm Acxiom’s overview of its various categories.

    But that’s just the beginning: The companies collect lists of people experiencing “life-event triggers” like getting married, buying a home, sending a kid to college — or even getting divorced.

    Credit reporting giant Experian has a separate marketing services division, which sells lists of “names of expectant parents and families with newborns” that are “updated weekly.”

    The companies also collect data about your hobbies and many of the purchases you make. Want to buy a list of people who read romance novelsEpsilon can sell you that, as well as a list of people who donate to international aid charities. [...]

    Where are they getting all this info?

    The stores where you shop sell it to them.

    Datalogix, for instance, which collects information from store loyalty cards, says it has information on more than $1 trillion in consumer spending “across 1400+ leading brands.” It doesn’t say which ones. (Datalogix did not respond to our requests for comment.) [...]

    Are there limits to the kinds of data these companies can buy and sell?

    Yes, certain kinds of sensitive data are protected — but much of your information can be bought and sold without any input from you. [...]

    Is there a way to find out exactly what these data companies know about me?

    Not really.

    You have the right to review and correct your credit report. But with marketing data, there’s often no way to know exactly what information is attached to your name — or whether it’s accurate.

    Most companies offer, at best, a partial picture.

    Read the full article to learn much more about data brokers and what they know about you.

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