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The Dark Side Of Data Brokerage Business

The Dark Side Of Data Brokerage Business

Harshajit Sarmah

Over the past couple of years, the intermediary industry has witnessed a massive rise — whether it’s about real estate, or mortgage or any other sector. And today, the sector is not limited to those sectors — people and firms are selling your data such as your residential address, phone number, email id, online shopping details, age, marital status, income and profession etc. With the increasing value and volume of personal data, Data brokers have started to gain a massive amount of traction in recent times, offering to manage and monetize consumers’ personal data sets.

What Is Data Broker?

A data broker a.k.a. information broker or information reseller is basically a firm that is collect consumer data and sells to other business. Talking about their source of collecting data, data brokers make use of a variety of resources to gather information — it may be reward cards, website cookies, social media etc. These data that are sold by brokers are typically in the form of profiles and these profiles are sold to other businesses who are looking to target people for different ad campaigns.

For many people across the world, data brokerage might be a very new term; however, this business model has become one of the most lucrative in this era — it is a $200 Billion industry.

According to a source, across the world, there are more than 4000 data broker companies and one of the major one is Acxiom. 


The company over the years has established itself as one of the largest in the domain, with about 23,000 servers that collect and analyze consumer data. And that is just only one company doing that business, now imagine how the amount of data that is getting generated on a day to day basis and how companies are making the best out of it. That is not all, to keep things transparent between the company and the consumers, Acxiom has a page AboutTheData that provides all the information — it also lets you opt-out.

If you are wondering how you can prevent your data from getting sold or used by someone, the truth is a bit bitter to digest — out of all the data brokers in the industry, 43% of them allow consumers to opt-out for free, and others might have to pay an amount (what an irony — paying for your own data).

The Shady Side Of Data Brokerage

Despite the fact that the business model of data brokerage is lucrative, it doesn’t seem to be one of those businesses that many people would like. The data brokerage industry has some of the shadiest instances. In 2013, a data broker was selling data lists of rape victims, alcoholics, and ‘erectile dysfunction sufferers’. This incident was so serious that, it brought data giants like Acxiom and Experian under the investigation light.

To give you a view of how data brokers work, there is one more instance and it’s from India this time. In 2017, ET reached out as a buyer to a data broker who sells personal information, and what they found was quite surprising. For just ₹10,000 and ₹15,000, the company was selling personal data of up to 1 lakh people in cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Delhi. That is not all, one data broker even offers to arrange data of individuals with a high net worth, salaried people, credit card holders, car owners and retired women in any given neighbourhood etc.

See Also

Most of the data brokers don’t show openly that they are into information selling business; rather they use a different business model, and under that model, they carry out the intermediary work of data brokerage.  

Is Data Brokerage Legal?

Even though we have witnessed the shady side of data brokers, this business often operates following the law. They might get hold of a huge amount of data; however, the way they gather it doesn’t seem to be illegal.

One of the common ways of gathering data is by looking at the internet for publicly available data. And another way is by collecting it from other companies who collect data by themselves. In recent times another way of collecting data has come in the scenario and that by renting servers. Many data brokers operate as companies who rent out servers and use them to collect data.

The Last Word

Data broker have become a serious concern about a lot off people in the world. And why not — when your data is up on the internet for sale, there is no way one cannot be worried. However, witnessing the shady events of the past, data brokerage has fallen under careful scrutiny and government of many nations have already started keeping an eye on the operations of these companies. But there is one more bitter truth, the internet is full of people who can do things beyond our imagination and one can never be 100% safe on the internet.

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