The hottest apps and social networks give us access to so much awesome content — all for free. The thing is, nothing in life is really free. The reason you don’t pay for these services is simple: your data is the product.
An entire industry built itself on tracking what sites you visit so it can compile marketing profiles on you. These companies often work in the shadows, with little oversight or insight into their practices. Currently, few countries have laws that require data brokers to list whose data they collect, how they store it, or what they do with it. Most countries don’t even have laws that require data brokers to make their existence known to the public or officials either.
If all of this sounds concerning (and it should!), don’t worry, you don’t have to let them track you. We’ll tell you what types of data brokers are tracking you, how to opt out, and how to keep them off your trail for good with a VPN.
What are data brokers
Data brokers, also known as information brokers, are companies that gather user data from different websites and online services to sell it to anyone willing to pay. Most data brokers specialize in specific fields, like credit reporting (Equifax, TransUnion), people records (White Pages, Intelius), advertising (Oracle, Acxiom), and more.
Companies like advertisers, insurers, and medical institutes use this data (also known as big data) for various purposes, including building statistics, gathering insight into people’s behavior, and researching consumer trends. Many companies use it to get background information on potential employees. Even landlords sometimes use this data to research potential tenants.
What personal information do data brokers collect?
Data brokers can sell sensitive information like your:
- Full name
- Home address (and previous addresses)
- Telephone number
- Email addresses
- Age and gender
- Social security number
- Homeowner or renter status
- Marital status
- Medical status
- Net worth
- Number of children
- Race and nationality
- Political affiliation
- Products you like and buy
- Types of devices you use
- Shows and movies you watch
- What you say (recorded via your devices)
- Messages you send and what you post online
- Who your contacts, friends, and family are
- Where and when you travel
- What type of transportation you use
Data brokers and their clients can use this information to determine almost anything about you: how likely you are to take risks, whether you’re trying to have a child, if you’re more likely to buy ice cream because you just went through a breakup. They even know which ice cream flavor you’re more likely to buy. They know who you’re more likely to vote for, whether you’ll go out this weekend, and even if you’re currently sick with the flu.
Creeped out yet? You should know also about the two types of data brokers and how they generally handle your data, so let’s take a closer look:
First-party data brokers
First-party data brokers are companies you’re familiar with because you use their product or service. You might not realize that every time you use their product, they’re collecting your data. These can include credit card companies, social media platforms, search engines, ISPS, mobile network operators, and more. They often sell access to your data to the highest bidder or even resell your data directly.
Third-party data brokers
Third-party data brokers are not directly connected to you. Their entire business is centered around buying or gathering your data from first-party brokers and reselling it to others. These companies often use scripts and crawler bots to collect thousands of “data points” for each consumer in their database.
Sometimes the data is anonymized and grouped into data for thousands of consumers with similar profiles. Other times it’s more personalized individual data linked to your name or email address. These personalized profiles sometimes appear on regular search engine results and display a small amount of information about you with the promise of more for a price.
Third-party data brokers use several sources for your data, such as:
- Social media activity
- Tracking your IP address
- Purchasing history and warranty information
- Credit card information
- Public records*
*This includes everything from your driver’s license and motor vehicle records to census data, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and even voter registration information.
How data brokers get your data
Wondering how data brokers steal your personal information? Well, you’re probably giving your data away without even realizing it. When you browse the web, the cookies and tracking scripts from websites you visit constantly document your online activity.
Even if you reject cookies or clear them entirely, brokers have other ways to track you. Some private browsers and plugins also offer ways to block tracking scripts, but they’re not foolproof.
When you access an online service or website, they can see your IP address and use it to compile information on you. Thankfully you can avoid this with a VPN. CyberGhost VPN hides your IP address and replaces it, so no one can track your real IP!
How to protect your data
Whether you’re on a computer or a smartphone, protecting your data is a good idea. Here’s how:
|Use a privacy browser
|Use encrypted messaging software
|Use a VPN
|Use tracker-blocking browser plugins
Additional Actions You Can Take
Protecting your data and preventing data brokers from creating detailed virtual profiles with your information takes some work. It doesn’t have to be hard though. Here’s a few extra things you can do if you want to make your data even harder to gather:
- Change your privacy settings: Your devices, apps, and most online accounts (especially social media accounts) give you the option to change your privacy settings to limit the amount of information they gather and share. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take their word that they’re not going to share your information.
- Request that brokers delete your data: Some data brokers have call centers you can contact to request they delete all of the data they have on you. Some also have privacy policies with details on how you can opt out of their services. The downside is this first requires you to find the data brokers who hold information about you. You’ll also likely have to repeat this process as they’ll simply continue to collect your data again.
- Avoid filling in surveys: Plenty of businesses and various institutions send out surveys to gather data for a variety of reasons. They usually promise a reward, like a voucher, in exchange for people filling out their survey. Yet these rewards aren’t a worthy exchange for your valuable data.
- Only fill in the most necessary information: You’ve probably filled out forms for businesses or when you create new online accounts. Many ask for much more information than they technically need. Only give out information you’re comfortable with sharing.
- Use Apple’s new iOS setting: If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad with iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and newer or a Mac computer with macOS Ventura, you can activate Apple’s new Lockdown Mode which is more intended for high-ranking officials and political dissidents. It has a feature that blocks various web scripts but this extreme measure also locks down other features on your device so this isn’t necessarily a good option for everyone.
- Pay with cash: Banks, credit card companies, and whoever buys their data can learn a lot about you from watching your card purchases and online transactions. If that bothers you, you can switch to paying cash whenever possible. Although this is somewhat of an inconvenience and not possible with online shopping.
- Why companies buy from data brokers: Data brokers sell your data for all kinds of purposes, so who exactly is buying it and why? I’ve already mentioned a few of the reasons, but let’s explore them in more detail here.
Have you ever started seeing ads for a product soon after searching for it online? Search engines can sell your information to advertisers who then also buy adspace targeted to your interests from them. Targeted ads have become more prevalent with the popularity of social media, but data brokers have collected data to sell ads for a long time.
Advertising companies also use information from data brokers to compile marketing profiles on potential customers. That makes it easier for them to find a specific customer base. Data brokers give them crucial information on your household so they can better target you with ads.
Your bank or credit card company may use software to compare data collected from its user base to detect fraudulent charges on your card. This seems like a good thing because it can protect you from fraud, but they may also sell this data to other data brokers.
Credit bureaus use public information like bankruptcy declarations and credit card payment history to determine your credit rating. This determines your eligibility for credit cards and loans, and how favorable the conditions they can offer you are. They then often resell this information to interested companies like banks, insurers, and credit card companies.
Finance isn’t the only industry with information on you. Fitness or workout apps have valuable health information which they can sell to health insurance companies to determine the cost of insuring you. This can also include online searches for medicine – even if you search for someone else.
That’s part of the danger of data broker companies — they can compile profiles on you with incorrect information. This can affect you negatively, as insurance companies increase your premiums based on this erroneous information.
For example, if you stream a lot of shows (inferring you spend a lot of time sitting), pay for unhealthy food with a card, and don’t log plenty of exercise on your fitness app, you’re considered a higher risk which will increase your health insurance. Regardless of how healthy you actually are. This isn’t simply theory either — it’s already happening in the medical insurance field.
Whatever you do online, make sure you protect your connection, and by extension your online data, with a VPN. CyberGhost VPN is dedicated to maintaining your privacy in every sense of the word. Our strong No Logs policy means we don’t keep track of your activity and we never sell your data.
The value of your digital data
Data brokering is a 200+ billion dollar industry annually, but it seems we only hear about it when a major data breach happens. Your data obviously has value, yet you’re not getting any money from it. Follow our tips and use a VPN so they can’t track your IP address to make money off of you.
This won’t entirely prevent data brokers from compiling information about you. Any personal information you willingly enter into websites, like on social media, can still be linked back to you. But using a private browser, limiting what you share online, and using a VPN goes a long way towards preventing data brokers from compiling huge amounts of detailed data about your life.
Is this all legal?
Much of this data collection and selling is legal for a simple reason. Like most people, you probably didn’t read the terms and conditions of using online services like social networks and search engines. Don’t feel bad, it happens to the best of us.
Just remember that you have rights. In some places like the EU and certain US states, you are allowed to request that your data be deleted.
- The GDPR legislation gives anyone located in the EU the right to remove their consent to cookies at any time and the “right to be forgotten” meaning to remove their data from a company’s database. Companies can face multi-million euro fines for not complying with GDPR. Still, even when they have to comply with stricter data laws, data brokers have other ways to identify and follow you around online.
- In Vermont, data brokers based in the US must register with the state of Vermont and follow certain data security standards. That means consumers can at least see which companies are operating as data brokers stateside.
- A few other states have similar legislation about data brokers. This chart breaks down what rights consumers have in each state.
|Know what data is tracked
|Know how data is being used
|Access their data
|Get a copy of their data
|Correct inaccurate data
|Delete their data
|Opt out of selling data
Still, on a global scale, data protection is not the norm. In other countries, including most of the United States, your ISP can track and even sell your data to advertisers — including your search history.
If you want to keep your ISP’s eyes off your data, CyberGhost VPN encrypts your connection with military-grade AES 256-bit encryption so no one can read your data. Not even your ISP, government, or the web admin on that free public Wi-Fi connection you like to use.
Who are these data brokers?
You may have never heard of them, but these major companies make tons of money off of your data. Here are some of the biggest data broker companies you can contact to opt out of data collection.
Keep in mind that they may not be legally required to remove you from their databases unless you live in the EU or a country or US state which requires them to allow you to opt out. Don’t share any unnecessary information to opt out.
- Harte Hanks
- Instant Checkmate
Can you recover your stolen data?
Data brokers greatly increase the chances of cybercriminals finding and stealing your sensitive personal data. They handle massive amounts of data with little oversight, so you can’t guarantee they’re using the best data storage and handling practices. Unfortunately, the alarming rate of data breaches happening every year proves data brokers don’t make cybersecurity a priority.
Unfortunately, once your data is stolen, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. To prevent further damage, you should call your banks to alert them of the fraud so they can freeze your accounts, and then change your passwords and PIN numbers immediately. If you’re in the US, you should go to IdentityTheft.gov to get an Identity Theft Report and figure out your recovery plan.
Going forward, using a VPN is a good idea when you’re online to protect your data from any further breaches. Be careful of what data you share and with whom.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
It’s time you protect your data
CyberGhost VPN secures all of the data traveling over your connection with the latest encryption protocols, which forms a protective tunnel around your device’s connection to our server. In short, that means no one can read your data.
You can connect up to 7 devices simultaneously with one CyberGhost VPN subscription. Each device has a dedicated app and benefits from our top-grade VPN protection and gives you the freedom to connect to any of our 116 server locations across the world. Regardless of where you are, you can overcome network restrictions, keep watching your favorite shows without ISP throttling, and get access to regional deals with peace of mind.
Protect Your Personal Data — It’s Valuable!
You can never be too careful online. The truth is, you never know who’s watching and whether they’re trying to sell your data or how susceptible their systems are to cybercriminals. That’s why it’s always a good idea to use a VPN when you’re online.
CyberGhost VPN uses the latest security technology to protect your data — even on sketchy public Wi-Fi networks. If you’re serious about evading data brokers, use a VPN dedicated to preserving your privacy online. Get CyberGhost VPN to keep your identity safe online today.
Data brokers get your data from a variety of sources. First-party data broker companies get your data directly from you when you use their products or services. Then they sell access to your data to third-party brokers who have no relation to you.
Other data comes from public records, your purchasing history, online activity, and more. When you browse online, data brokers can track you by your IP address using various trackers and the cookies you’ve accepted in your browser. CyberGhost VPN changes your IP address and keeps them off your trail.
Yes. They sell and resell your data and package it into categories related to your demographics, socio-economic background, spending habits, and more. This makes it easier to create targeted advertisements to your specific interests, understand your behavior, and adjust your insurance premiums. Download the CyberGhost VPN app and keep data brokers from tracking you on all of your devices.
Yes, you can. In the US, use a list like this Github catalog or Privacy Rights Clearinghouse catalog to contact major data broker databases and opt out of their data gathering. In the EU, visit optout.eu. You might have to repeat this process as new data brokers pop up in time.
VPNs significantly weaken the ability of data brokers to collect your information, but they can’t stop everything. Still, VPNs hide your IP address to make it harder to track you and prevent others like your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online.
Once you’ve removed your personal information from data broker databases, using CyberGhost VPN can help you evade data broker companies from now on. Our Customer Support team is available 24/7 if you ever need help.
CyberGhost VPN is a great VPN for online privacy because we protect your connection with state-of-the-art encryption. That keeps others, like your ISP, from seeing what you’re doing. Unlike free VPNs, we never sell your data, and our firm No Logs policy means we don’t even track it. Best of all, CyberGhost VPN comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee, so start protecting your connection now.