Pretty Sweet Tech: Data Breaches and Data Brokers, Oh My!

Today, we talk about data brokers. They’re part of the reason Best Buy ads keep chasing me around the web. These are the organizations running behind the scenes of marketing, government data pools, identity verification services, background checks, and so much more.

There are over 4,000 data broker companies worldwide, but we’re going to look at Acxiom, one of the world’s largest data brokers. This is the power of information today. Currently, Axciom has global data in over 60 countries, has information about over 2.5 billion people, and their website boasts over 10,000 attributes about each individual person.

Honestly, this would probably make marketers salivate. Those little information nuggets are solid gold for data miners everywhere. But it’s not the information that matters, it’s how you use it that counts. Data brokers scrape information from public records, purchase data from companies, then clean, analyze, repackage, and license clean data to companies.

First we’ll look at the type of information these brokers collect in their 10,000+ attributes, then we’ll explore how it is analyzed and used in real life.

Type of Information Collected (from Axciom’s website):

  • Individual Demographics (ex. age, gender, ethnicity, education, occupation)
  • Household Characteristics (ex. occupants, number/age of children)
  • Financial (ex. income ranges, net worth, economic stability)
  • Life Events (ex. marriage, divorce, new children, moving)
  • Interests (ex. sports, leisure, pets, entertainment)
  • Buying Activities (ex. purchase history, method of payment)
  • Behavior (ex. community involvement, causes)
  • Major Purchases (ex. home buying, cars, property, technology)

How do they know life events and interests? Social media is one way. Looking at Facebook’s website, they have a marketing insights page for businesses. Facebook deep dives into your social media activity, tracks keywords in posts, and knows all your major life events. Then they sell it to data brokers, or directly to companies. Data brokers then take this information, and resell it to more companies. Facebook isn’t the only one.

How is the Information Used?

There are four major categories of how your information is being used:

  • Marketing and Advertising (ex. online ads, emails)
  • Fraud Detection (ex. verification of identify for a loan by a bank)
  • Risk-Mitigation (ex. can track overspending, or health stats to determine eligibility for health insurance or financial loans)
  • People-Search Sites (used for background searches for landlords, employers, curious friends/ family, or anyone who wants to pay to see your history)

What About Data Breaches?

Sometimes this information gets into the wrong hands. Hackers get into large pools of information all the time in data breaches. No company is ever completely safe from a data breach. That is like saying the Titanic is unsinkable.

Did you ever think about where your information goes when you go online? We still had a digital footprint before the internet exploded. Companies still tracked your purchases and interests, but now they can do it more efficiently. Consider what you want people to know about you online.

 

 

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