Last week, Vermont become the first state in the US to implement real regulations on the data collection industry. Data brokers will have to register with the state and alert users when there’s been a data breach. They also must observe standard security practices to protest your data. Facebook has been in the news a lot lately with regard to data breaches and data abuse, but most data brokers work in the shadows. It’s been estimated that there are 2500-4000 data brokers operating in the US alone – and until this Vermont law, they’ve been entirely unregulated. While this data can be used for good things like fraud prevention and identity verification, it’s also being sold to marketers and political groups who want you to buy their products or get their candidate elected. Until this industry is regulated, your only option is to opt out of data collection where you can.
You Aren’t the Customer, You’re the Product
It’s been said that data is the new oil. Unfortunately, unlike oil, if your data is “spilled”, there is no way it can be cleaned up. When your private information is made public, you can’t expunge the memories of everyone who now knows your secrets. The only real protection is to prevent that data from being collected in the first place. Sadly, unlike the European Union, the United States government has yet to stand up for the consumer.
Know What They Know
Most people don’t realize the sheer volume of information that they generate on a daily basis. Between public records, social media, credit card transactions, GPS data, cell phone data and location, and web tracking, we leave little bits and pieces of our personal data all over the place. And data brokers are there to pick it up. Facebook and Google alone probably know more about you than your spouse does. You should take the time to download everything that these companies know about you, just so you know what they know. And then head over to Acxiom – one of the largest data brokers – and see what they know about you.
Realize that they’re only sharing part of what they know – most likely the raw data and some basic conclusions they’ve drawn from that data. They may not share data that they’ve collected from other sources and correlated with you. They probably also won’t share the more creepy things they’ve inferred about you from all of this data. But at least you can get some idea.
How to Opt Out
There’s only so much you can do to opt out of this data collection. This is mostly because you don’t even know who to contact about it. And that’s just the way they like it. This is why we need rules and regulations for this industry. But until then, you can reach out to some of the biggest data brokers and marketing firms, using the links below, and ask them to cut it out. Since there are no laws backing this up, you’re basically hoping that they will honor your request – because they don’t have to.