Data Brokers - Keeping track of the people keeping track of you
You know those companies that maintain massive databases of consumers and their behaviors -- and sell all that information to marketers? Oh well. Perhaps you don't know them. They are supposed to be invisible, but they do have a significant impact on the effectiveness of marketing to consumers -- especially when it comes to online sales.
In the U.S. 3 million people are employed in the $300 billion-a-year data industry
Global online transactions generate 10,000,000,000,000 ($10 trillion) annually, and when there are that many zeros on the table, any advantage will be exploited as as the law will allow (or not).
Out of the 2,397 data broker companies, Acxiom Corporation is know as "the quiet giant."
It has the world's largest commercial consumer database, with information about 500 million active consumers worldwide.
Acxiom's database is so extensive that it had data on 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.
Their commercial consumer database contains "nearly every U.S. consumer," with data on 126 million U.S. households on 190 million individuals.
Averaging about 1,500 data points apiece, each consumer is assigned a 13-digit code and placed in one of 7,018 detailed socioeconomic clusters.
In 2011, Acxiom made $77.26 million in profit. Its clients include 47 Fortune 100 companies.
The company combines its 43-year-old offline database with mobile activity and online data from 75,000 websites annually to create what's called a "360-degree-view" of consumer behavior.
How are data brokers used? Companies and organizations in the U.S. spend more than $2 billion a year on third-party data. Why? In short: to sell you things, but also: information research, identity verification, fraud prevention, background checks.
CampaignGrid & Precision Network, two political online ad platforms, use data brokers to gather info on 150 million American Internet users, or roughly 80 percent of registered American voters, to better target political ads.
What they know about you. Data collection can range from surface-level contact and demographic information to hobbies, income, and special life events.
Personal Information: Hobbies, interests, and your friends and family.
"Life event Triggers:" getting married, buying a house, moving, sending a kid to college, or having a baby
Basic Data: Name, address, age, race, occupation, education level, number/age/gender of children, marital status.
Financial Information: Item purchase history, details about your salary, assets owned (vehicles, property), mortgages, loans taken for mortgages.
Public Records: Divorces, bankruptcies, any criminal history or court records, driving infractions.
Where do they get this data? There are three primary types of sources:
Acxion uses a shopper recognition program that cross-references a customer's ZIP code or phone number with a name from a check or credit card within a 10 percent margin of error -- and they never have to ask permission.
Public: Government records, public records, publicly available data.
Volunteered: Self-reported data from surveys and questionnaires
Private: Mostly data from other commercial entities, employers, online trackers.
What if you don't want to be in the database?
In short, tough luck. While some companies allow people to "opt out" of their databases, to truly get out of the system, a consumer would have to know about all the different data brokers that have their information and opt out of each one individually. And for consumers, that sort of information is really hard to find.
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