Pretty much everything you do in your everyday life from getting married or buying a home to shopping online or liking a page on Facebook leaves a huge paper trail, and data brokers are getting that information. Data brokers are entities that collect information about consumers and then sell it on to companies, individuals, or other data brokers. They do not usually have a direct relationship with the people that they are collecting this data on, leaving many individuals completely unaware that their data is being collected at all. Even when a consumer is aware that data brokers exist and the extent of the data being collected on them, it can be difficult to figure out which data they can control. So, what do data brokers hold on consumers, and do they pose a threat to users?
People Search Sites:
The data broker industry is divided into three categories. People search sites allow users to input some data such as a name or phone number and get more information on that person for a small fee. Nuwber is a data broker offering this service which can be very useful if you need to find something out about an individual, such as identifying an unknown caller or suspicious email sender. The information that people search sites may hold on consumers can vary, but it can include birthdates, address history, employment details, education information, marital status, bankruptcy, social media profiles, property records, aliases, and even details on relatives.
Some data brokers are focused on marketing, developing dossiers on individuals which can be used to tailor marketing strategies. These data brokers tend to place consumers in various categories based on demographics such as age, education level, income, number of children, interests, and ethnicity. Companies then purchase lists of names, email addresses, offline activity, and interests in order to assist in better marketing their products and services to these individuals.
Some data brokers offer risk mitigation products in order to help detect fraud and verify identities. Typically, these data brokers pose the least risk to consumers, as they do not usually sell the information for marketing purposes or make the data publicly available online. However, if the information held on a consumer is incorrect, it can cause issues. It may be difficult to fix inaccuracies, for example, if a lender uses a risk mitigation product to determine whether a mailing address has been used for fraud, it could stop consumers from matching addresses who have not committed fraud from being able to complete a transaction.
Do They Pose a Threat?
For the most part, data brokers are ethical when it comes to sharing data and in cases such as people search sites and risk mitigation products, it can actually help to keep you safer online. However, the information collected on individuals can be used in nefarious ways by cybercriminals, such as to carry out identity fraud. If you can get enough information on somebody online, you may be able to use this information in order to steal their identity or use their credit history, or even hack their online accounts. And, if companies that are collecting data on individuals are vulnerable to security breaches, the data that they are collecting might end up in the wrong hands.
Most of the time, data brokers collecting information about you comes at a low level of risk, but it’s always important to be vigilant about the amount of information that you share online.
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