Shadowy Data Companies Have Intel on Almost Every American For Sale
The Senate Commerce Committee issued a report on the multibillion
dollar data industry today, and the accompanying testimony and
findings are chilling.
Over the last year, the Committee queried nine of the major data
companies and invited testimony from privacy groups. What's emerged is
that collectively, these companies own an astounding number of
consumer profiles, and they're selling deeply personal information —
sometimes to identity thieves — in categories like rape victims,
people with cancer, and "Rural and Barely Making It."
One data broker is selling lists of addresses and names of consumers
suffering from conditions including cancer, diabetes, and depression,
and the medications used for those conditions; another is offering
lists naming consumers, their credit scores, and specific health
In October, Experian admitted that it sold personal information —
including social security numbers and banking information — through a
subsidiary to an alleged online identity theft ring. That same
subsidiary, Court Ventures, also appeared on a list of companies that
requested private information about gun permit holders in Virginia.
Equifax told the Committee they had information as specific as:
Whether a consumer purchased a particular soft drink or shampoo
product in the last six months
Whether they use laxatives or yeast infection products
How many OB/GYN doctor visits they've had within the last 12 months
How many miles they traveled in the last 4 weeks
The number of whiskey drinks they consumed in the past 30 days.
That data is then sorted into a dictionary with more than 75,000 data
points like, "whether the individual or household is a pet owner,
smokes, has a propensity to purchase prescriptions through the mail,
donates to charitable causes, is active military or a veteran, holds
certain insurance products including burial insurance or juvenile life
insurance, enjoys reading romance novels, or is a hunter."
Privacy groups testified that the companies also sell lists of rape
victims and people with HIV and AIDs.
This fine-tuned data collection isn't new — last year, the Times
reported a story of how Target figured out a teenager was pregnant
before her father did. Even in 2007, the Times reported on a company
selling lists like, "Oldies but Goodies," 500,000 gamblers over 55
years old, for 8.5 cents each, and one list that said: "These people
are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."
But their databases are growing infinitely, and there are still no
relevant consumer protection laws in place to protect individual
privacy. And despite recent transparency efforts — like Acxiom's
aboutthedata.com — that also means the consumers on these lists still
have no right to find out what information is out there, or who is