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What Is A Data Broker and How Can You Protect Your Personal Information?

Last Updated: December 7, 2023
4 min read

Key points about: data brokers

  1. Data brokers collect and often sell personal information about consumers to companies and individuals.

  2. A data broker may collect information from public records, social media, or purchase history.

  3. You can protect your personal information by opting out of large data broker databases and security protection alerts from your credit card issuer.

What is a data broker?

A data broker, data brokerage, or information broker is a company that makes money from personal data. 

Data brokers collect data sets from different sources and sell the data to other people or businesses. Usually, the data is personal information or sensitive information about consumers, often found through public records. The information may be sold to turn a profit since it may provide value for organizations, like a marketing company may use it in targeted advertising. It’s also used to help companies make informed decisions. For example, when you apply for a credit card, the card issuer usually reviews your credit report. A credit report is a consumer report produced by a credit reporting agency— a data broker.

How do data brokers get your information?

Data brokers often collect information that’s readily available through public records. 

What’s considered public record varies from state to state but may include data points such as:

  • Bankruptcies 
  • Census data
  • Court records
  • Criminal history 
  • Insurance
  • Liens
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Property information
  • Voter registration information

Public records could also include information about where you live, your age, your employment history, the names and ages of your family, names of people you have direct relationships with, whether you have been married or divorced, and more. 

Usually, personally identifiable health information like health care services you’ve received, immunization records, or mental health data isn’t considered public records in the U.S. without special authorizations. 

Data brokers may acquire and aggregate information about your purchases, the coupons you use, the sweepstakes you enter, location data, stores, or brands you prefer. All of this can come from sources like loyalty cards, accounts you’ve signed up for, email offers you’ve responded to, or mobile apps you use. This info is user data that data brokers can purchase and then provide to other companies or post for sale on people search sites.

Some third-party data brokers serve as information resellers by collecting consumer data from other companies, then selling it to individuals or companies that want to use it for various purposes, like a marketing agency using the info to create a targeted ad based on your purchase history. For example, some agencies may collect info using posts on your social media account, “likes” or interactions with related posts, or track websites you visit, online gaming activity, online quizzes, mobile apps, and other social activity. This user data could be used for targeted advertising.

Did you know?

Discover gives you more control over your personal information online by regularly helping you to remove it from at least 10 people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the Discover app1.

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Data privacy laws

Unfortunately, some brokerages may use less-than-ethical methods to obtain valuable personal data to turn a profit. However, federal law and various privacy laws only go so far to protect consumer information. That’s why being well-informed about personal data, public records, and privacy law is essential.

What is a consumer reporting agency?

A consumer reporting agency (CRA) is a company that collects data and information about consumers, compiles consumer reports based on the data points, and provides the reports to other companies. Then companies can use these reports to make educated decisions before engaging with you. Consumer reporting agencies are  required to follow specific legal guidelines, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Consumer information privacy laws 

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other organizations work to protect consumer privacy and help consumers gain more control over their personal information.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as the Federal Trade Commission explains, a consumer’s personal information is legally protected, so the reporting agency must follow specific protocols when collecting and sharing consumer information, among other protections. 

California provides strong consumer protection regulations. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), similar to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted in the European Union, gives more control to consumers over their personal information, as explained by the State of California Department of Justice. Under the CCPA, California consumers have the right to know about data collected about them and how it will be used and the right to delete certain personal information. The CCPA also includes a few other rights, like the right to opt out and non-discrimination.

How to protect yourself from data brokers

All consumers in the United States can and should start taking control of personal data that’s available on people-search sites. Data brokering can be concerning since individuals or businesses can purchase personal data online.

Since your personal information could appear online on a data brokerage site without your knowledge or consent, cybercriminals could try to use your information to commit identity theft. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect yourself. For example, with Discover, you can get an alert when any new credit card, mortgage, car loan or other account shows up on your Experian® credit report. Activate for FREE.2

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Can you remove your information from data brokerage sites?

There are a few steps you can take to begin protecting yourself from data brokers and remove your information from data broker sites.

Visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. There you can check for a possible data breach and review privacy laws. You can also access the Data Brokers Database to learn where your information may be posted. From the database, you can visit each data broker’s website to opt out.

Consider removing data points that could lead to identity theft and sensitive data that you may not want readily available to just anyone. You can also consider removing location data that could risk your physical safety or privacy.


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