Ever wondered where all of your personal information ends up at the end of the day? CBS recently reported on what are being called “Data Brokers”. It is a new way of marketing products to people but it also seems to be an invasion of personal information through computers and mobile phones. What we are seeing is an array of companies that collect data from your web browser, search history, social networks and phone applications, and are accessing the data by default.

This data includes your personal interests, political views and associations, sexual orientation, income, family history, previous medical conditions, even where you go out for dinner, just to name a few. These companies are taking your information and categorizing it for marketing purposes and selling it to organizations like our federal government and advertising companies that target you.

The reason for the new boom in this data collection is the belief that the data collected about their target market is more valuable than the actual product they sell. It seems to be logical. Of course, finding the right target market is extremely valuable if you have a product to sell, but at whose expense? It seems these “Data Broker” companies are hacking into your personal information and stealing it.

Who is taking our information?
Companies such as Axciom and Epsilon are two big names in the data collection field. Both companies promote data and technology have transformed marketing but they do not tell you how exactly they are “transforming the market”. Companies like these have over 1500 pieces of data on over 200 million Americans.

How are these “Data Brokers” crossing the line?
Millions of people download applications to their phones daily. An application as simple as a flashlight is now being used by data collection companies as a tracking device. Just by having the application on your cell phone they can now track your every move to find where you go on any given day. They gather your activity and categorize it and sell it.

During the 60 Minute report they also referenced webistes such as, https://www.okcupid.com ; and www.take5solutions.com. Okcupid.com is a website designed for online dating that asks numerous personal questions about the user which would seem to be the perfect cover for data collection. Take5solutions.com oversees 17 different websites all designed for users to share personal information such as, medical history and health. At any given time dozens of data collection companies are tracking your every move online.

What can you do to prevent this?

  • Be aware of what you are posting on social networks. Never share personal information such as your children’s names, your date of birth, maiden name, and answers to your security questions (like the name of your first pet, etc). Also, be careful what you share in posts. The rule is if you wouldn’t want it posted in a magazine or newspaper, don’t post it on your social sites.
  • Know the background of what websites you are getting on beforehand. Never click through an email link to a website. Always enter in the web address manually via a different window. When providing information on the web, make sure you read over the website’s security policy. Know what information they are sharing and what is private.
  • Be sure the website is legitimate and not only set up to activate your information.  These phishing websites are disguised as legitimate websites, though they are there to gather your personal information. Sometimes they pose as your trusted banks, phone companies or they can even pose as a new app that you think would be fun to have. Make sure you are on a legitimate site before ever creating an account.
  • Read the fine print. Again, it is important to understand the policies of the website, and this means reading the fine print that normally is looked over. If you have questions about the policies, as a contact on the site. If they do not get back to you, it’s probably not worth creating an account.

For more information on security best practices and employee education to keep your organization secure, check out our compliance training library here