Think The NSA’s Bad? Data Brokers Sell Rape Victims’ Names For 7.9 Cents Apiece

Data brokers sell info about rape victims and everyone else.

Feel creeped out by NSA spying? Then you’ll feel REALLY spooked by what for-profit ‘data brokers’ know about you, and what they do with your information. Image @SodaHead

If you thought NSA spying was bad, then wait till you read this. Data brokers, companies that sell your information to marketers for a profit, sell the names of rape victims for 7.9 cents apiece. And it gets even worse: Rape victims are not the only people who’ve lost their privacy thanks to these companies. Data brokers also sell information about AIDS victims, domestic violence victims, people with genetic diseases, and even names, phone numbers, and home addresses of police officers.

Data brokers have all sorts of info on you, me, and everyone.

The Wall Street Journal reports that data brokers have entire databases on people’s health. They know who has diabetes, osteoporosis, insomnia and even depression. They know when women visit their gynecologists. Collecting and selling that kind of health data, however, is legal, because data brokers aren’t healthcare providers or insurance companies. Therefore, they aren’t covered by HIPAA rules.

Other info that data brokers collect involves your income, your overall financial situation, your home loan, and even what pets you have. You then get assigned to a category like, “ethnic city struggler” or “rural and barely making it.”

Epsilon, one of the data brokers under fire for privacy violations, said the health info they sell is “self-reported” in surveys, and isn’t mined from anywhere. Acxiom lets consumers see some of their data, but doesn’t tell them what categories they’re put into.

Privacy? That’s mere fantasy in the world of data brokers. A report from the Senate says, this largely unregulated industry not only sells anything they find about you, but they’re also very secretive about it. Data brokers supposedly do this to help companies better tailor their marketing campaigns. Without transparency, though, there’s no way to know that’s all they’re doing.

Consumers have no right to know what information is out there, or how it’s used.

And you, the consumer, have no specified legal right to see what they have, how they use it, and who buys it. This  compromises your control over your privacy. While data brokers don’t know everything, the problem is not necessarily that they have all this info, it’s that you can’t see it and control it, except to never enter anything into any website ever, sign up for mailers, or anything like that. Experian recently got into trouble for one of its subsidiaries selling info to a company involved with identity theft. Experian’s excuse was that this happened before they bought them.

John Rockefeller (D-WV) put Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon on notice for continued failure to provide complete information to the Commerce Committee during its investigation. The committee asked for sources of info, and to whom the info is sold. Experian’s senior vice president said repeatedly that he can’t name their clients, not even to the Senate.

The director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, told the Senate at a hearing on Wednesday,

“I was stunned in doing my research when I found lists of people who were rape sufferers, people who were genetic disease suffers [sic], people who were victims of domestic violence. What is happening is through survey instruments that are operated online and through other methods that are typically consumer generated, people will volunteer this information to websites thinking they are getting help from a website. And they have no idea this information is going to be attached to, not just a cookie, but their name, their home address, their phone number.” [SOURCE]

Government agencies and trade groups don’t agree on how to protect consumers’ privacy and ensure that they know what info is bought and sold. The Commerce Committee and the FTC both want this info readily available to consumers. They believe that we have a right to know what info is collected and how it’s used, and that we should be able to find that easily. The FTC would like to create a website portal that would allow consumers to see all the info data brokers have on them.

But trade groups don’t like that concept. The Direct Marketers Association is pulling the old it-won’t-work-so-we-shouldn’t-do-it trick. They’re saying that, since at least 650 companies could be called data brokers, such a website wouldn’t help consumers to understand just their info, let alone how to control it.

In the 1970s, data brokers collected information via public records. Today, they make up a $120 billion industry.