Meet the Data Brokers Who Help Corporations Sell Your Digital Life

They know what you did last summer.

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=digital+spying&search_group=#id=146275202&src=4M6h14mQNJI_GrPizZGoMg-1-0">alphaspirit</a>/Shutterstock


Serving (up) the single ladies

Datalogix tracks the spending habits of more than 110 million households using sources such as store loyalty cards. It partners with Twitter and Facebook to assess whether groups of users buy the cooking gear or brand of shampoo advertised on their social-media pages. Datalogix doesn’t know that a certain Mother Jones journalist bought a quart of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy after changing her Facebook status back to “single,” but it can help determine whether a targeted group of twentysomething professional women who left relationships bought that ice cream.

Opt out? You can do so on the company’s website, but the request takes 30 days to process and each household member must opt out separately.

Companies that sell similar info: Acxiom, Epsilon, BlueKai, V12 Group
 

Dude, where’s my car?

TLO, a “background research” company, uses technology that scans and reads license plates collected by cameras mounted on parking garages, roads, and bridges from coast to coast. The company claims to have collated more than 1 billion time-stamped reports containing photographs and specific locations of vehicles, which TLO markets to law enforcement agencies, law firms, and data brokers.

Opt out? Not unless you can limit your driving to dirt roads.

Companies that sell similar info: MVTRAC, Vigilant Solutions
 

Cheap credit scores and…Baby Einstein videos?

With credit reports on at least 299 million consumers, Experian doesn’t just hold the key to whether you’ll get a car loan or home mortgage: It also sells “life-event” data to advertisers, marketing a database that is “updated weekly with the names of expectant parents and families with newborns,” and new homeowners, among other information.

Opt out? Experian allows users to opt out online or by phone but notes that “will not eliminate all targeted advertising.”

Companies that sell similar info: Equifax, TransUnion
 

Location is everything

As you surf the web, Neustar uses your computer’s IP address to determine your area code, postal code, time zone, whether you’re at home or at work, and whether you’re using your phone. They then sell this data to companies that point ads at you: “Want to meet singles in Washington, DC?”

Opt out? You can do so on Neu­star’s site, although you’ll have to do it again each time you switch browsers or get a new computer.

Companies that sell similar info: MaxMind, Digital Envoy
 

Background checks on steroids

You’ve seen Intelius’ ads if you’ve ever Googled your eighth-grade crush. The company sells data using more than 20 billion records on individuals, including bankruptcies, arrests, and address histories, mostly culled from public records such as driver’s license databases and court documents. Intelius also collects relevant content from “blogs or social networking sites.”

Opt out? You’ll need to send a state-issued ID card or driver’s license via fax or US mail, and wait 7 to 14 days.

Companies that sell similar info: Spokeo, PeopleFinders, BeenVerified.com

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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