Big Brother Is Making Money off Your Data
February 1st, 2023
Even our government is making money off of your personal data. Sure, it’s legal, but is it right?
You likely know that mega businesses, such as Amazon, social media and search engine companies, collect vast amounts of data about us. That’s so they can target their goods and services more precisely to customers. It’s all in the name of helping advertisers reach specific audiences and demographics.
And you’re likely aware that our governments at the local, state and federal level amass a ton of data about us, as well.
But did you know that much of this information is sold to data brokers? And that you, provider of said information, see none of that revenue?
A wide range of details can be found in public records through freedom of information requests. Local and state agencies keep track of such information as who has gotten married, who was arrested, and who has registered to vote. DMV information on each driver and details from arrest files may also be available.
This is as it should be. Open records are crucial to maintaining a healthy society that follows the rules and regulations.
But what about when all this sold off to data brokers? The data brokers, in turn, package and sell this data to companies of all types and sizes, who find value in it for their own purposes. That isn’t really as it should be.
Here’s an example of how it works. If you drive, information that you are required to provide to obtain your driver’s license is part of the public record. As noted by a report from CPO Magazine, state offices of the department of motor vehicle records are making tens of millions of dollars selling that information to data brokers. What they do with it is anyone’s guess.
DMV offices across the country have been selling this aggregated data since 2014, though Texas has prohibited the practice. It’s information of enormous interest to entities such as bounty hunters, credit reporting bureaus, bail bondsmen, private investigators and, of course, bill collectors.
A report from Fast Company indicates that data brokers such as Lundquist Consulting provide data about bankruptcy cases. It also shows that protections are lacking for consumers.
Fast Company explained that a new law in Vermont that requires data brokers to register with the secretary of state does not mandate that the brokers divulge who is in their lists, or the types of personal data they are amassing. On the plus side, the new law requires agencies to give people information about opting out of such data collection, so there is some progress being made on the privacy front.
The ongoing sale of this publicly available information is a reminder for parents that it’s difficult to lock down all aspects of your lives from the prying eyes of a data broker. Even if you are careful about your information, such as refraining from joining company loyalty clubs and scrubbing personal data from your social media accounts, there is plenty of public information that will remain on the record for advertisers and others to use.