Data Brokers vs Privacy

Companies like Kroger offer rewards to track your spending habits in order to better entice buyers to purchase more products.

Companies like Kroger offer rewards to track your spending habits in order to better entice buyers to purchase more products.

Receiving junk mail is common today. People are getting ads here and there in the mail but also online. It is constant advertisement for us to glance at and throw away. You may have noticed that you have looked up something on Google and you get an ad on Instagram or Facebook a few hours later. Most people chalk this up to coincidence, however this is just a form of data that has been computed to what you could want. This has introduced a whole job into the world: Data Brokers.  

What is a data broker? They are companies who collect data about everyone during their online usage, compiling it and then spitting out useful statistics. They then go on to sell your information to advertisers and retailers. What you buy, where you go, and what you see online is a commodity that these brokers now sell. You are the product.

This data they collect can range from online activity, what you buy and sell, or even where you go throughout the day. All this information allows information to be used as a marketing tool. It may seem like we get all the benefit for this, however it is a billion-dollar industry. They group people into certain categories and then find who will be able to use this to their advantage. Acxiom, one of the largest data brokers is using your data for up to 12% of the US marketing sales. 

One of the most common ways data brokers get information is from loyalty cards. Kroger has a gas card that allows you to get cheaper gas from your purchases in their grocery stores. They can then track everything you buy and send you ads about common items you buy. UDF has a similar gas card that will track how many snacks and milkshakes you, buy and sell that information to other companies. These cards are not only for gas.

Amazon’s Alexa, virtual assistant

Amazon’s Alexa, virtual assistant

Along with just a card tracking your data, another worry is technology listening in to you. Most smart devices come along with a virtual assistant. Apple, Google, and Samsung have put preventative measure on them. It starts with a trigger word or phrase, such as “OK Google,” and “Hey Siri.” This makes sure it is only listening to those few words. This does not prevent hacking of devices to send everything to the cloud. Amazon has also had a few run ins with this problem. Their Amazon Alexa has been proven to be listening to random phrases and triggering tracking. The best way to avoid data being taken from these devices is to use caution when selecting them. 

Along with the previous ways, data brokers can also track where you are. Navigation has been a staple in today's transportation. Apps like Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze track where you go and how you are getting there. The perks of having a fast route with little traffic and no police presence makes these apps appeal to the average person. Even though the consumer is benefiting, marketers are selling your location.

Along with maps, popular location-based games have been tracking this way as well. Pokemon Go uses location to track your location. While it is not expressed as a serious concern to Niantic, the terms and conditions have a few statements that have worried people. “We collect certain information that your (or your authorized child’s) mobile device sends when you (or your authorized child) use our services, like a device identifier, user settings, and the operating system of your (or your authorized child’s) device, as well as information about your use of our Services while using the mobile device. We may use this information to provide the Services and to improve and personalize our Services for you (or your authorized child).” 

Now for most companies, if you want your information to be taken off their sites, be prepared for them to be stubborn. You must jump through a few hoops to remove your info or cancel your device’s ability to collect and send data. You can go to a few of the individual sites like Acxiom to opt out of their collection. There are also services like Reputation that you pay to have your data taken down from these sites. You can also take the benefits with little information going out to data brokers. You just need to partially opt out and reap the benefits.  

Owen Lundy