Data Brokers Sell Your Personal Information

Data brokers are companies that collect and sell personal information, increasing the risks of identity theft, fraud, and spam. Their reach is vast: 98% of Americans have data that's exposed by at least 35 brokers, with 300 pieces of exposed information per person on average.

The data that brokers sell include:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Date of birth
  • Names of your family members
  • Purchase history
  • Location
  • Financial situation
  • Marital status

... and more.

Data brokers have existed for decades, but they’ve really taken off with the rise of the internet and targeted advertising by companies like Google and Facebook. For reference,nthe nonprofit maintains a list of data brokers.

Who Do Data Brokers Sell Info To?

There are two types of buyers, both of whom are concerning but for different reasons:

  1. Businesses that want to advertise to you. They get your contact information from data brokers, leading to spam calls and emails.
  2. Scammers and fraudsters that want to steal your identity. While data brokers are usually legitimate businesses, their customers aren't always so. If your personal data is owned by dozens of brokers (as is the case for most Americans), it’s easy for criminals to get their hands on it. Even with just your name, address, and email address, they can often impersonate you and steal your identity—and then drain your accounts or open credit cards in your name. Read our blog post about how identity theft works here.

Where Do Data Brokers Get Their Data?

Data brokers collect their data from a variety of sources:

  1. Public records: marriage licenses, voter registrations, motor vehicle records, etc.
  2. App and websites: both apps and websites track user data such as date of birth, device ID, and user behavior and interests. While some services track these only for their own use, some sell the data to data brokers.
  3. Social media: data brokers scrape sites/apps like LinkedIn and Instagram.

With these sources and more, data brokers are able to compile detailed profiles of hundreds millions of Americans.

Do Data Brokers Have Any of My Data?

The answer is almost definitely yes: 98% of Americans have data exposed on at least 35 brokers’ sites.

You can view which of the largest brokers have data on you—and what they have—by using Keenly's free privacy scan.

Can I Remove My Data from Data Brokers?

Yes—and you have two options for doing so:

  1. Do it yourself. While this is technically possible, in practice this is too big a lift for individuals, as it involves going to every data broker's site and going through each unique, multi-step opt-out process—and continuing to monitor each site in case your data reappears on them, which typically happens 2–3 times per year. (Data brokers don’t want to make it easy for you, as selling your data is their business model!)
  2. Have a service like Keenly remove your data for you. You can learn more about how Keenly's service works here.