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

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

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THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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