The Business of Data Brokers

How much is your privacy worth?

What Is A Data Broker?

“Data brokers are companies that collect personal information about consumers from a variety of public and nonpublic sources and resell the information to other companies.” – Federal Trade Commission1

What Informations Do Data Brokers Collect?

Data collected includes:2

  • Identifying Data – Name, Address history, Email Address
  • Sensitive identifying Data – Social security number, Birth dates of family members
  • Demographic Data– Age, Race & ethnicity, Religion
  • Court & Public Record Data – Bankruptcies, Marriage licenses, Voting registration & party identification
  • Home & Neighborhood Data – Home listing price, Home loan amount & interest rate
  • Social Media & Technology Data- Friend connections, Type of media posted, Use of mobile devices
  • Vehicle Data – Vehicle identification numbers, Insurance renewal
  • General Interest Data – Life events (e.g., retirement, newlywed, expectant parent), Gambling history, Charitable giving
  • Financial Data – Credit worthiness, Investment interests, Estimated income
  • Travel Data – Date of last travel purchase, Frequent flyer information, Travel purchase – highest price paid
  • Purchase Behavior Data – Amount spent on goods, Method of payment
  • Health Data – Tobacco usage, Ailment & prescription online search propensity, Over-the-counter-drug purchases

Where Do Brokers Get Your Information?

Government sources3

State & Local Government

  • Professional and recreational licenses
  • Property and assessor records
  • Voter registration information
  • Motor vehicle and driving records
  • Court records (criminal, civil, birth, marriage, divorce and death records)

Federal Government

  • Demographic information (ethnicity, age, education level, household makeup and income)
  • Geographic information (addresses, school and voting districts)

Commercial Sources4

  • Retailer and catalog purchases
  • Magazine subscriptions

Other Publicly Available Sources5

  • Telephone and other directories
  • Press coverage
  • Information from blogs and social media sites

Monetizing Personal Information

What Is Your Data Worth To You?

$2.72 – An italian university found that study participant would auction off their smartphone activity data for a median bid across all data categories of $2.72.6

$8 – datacoup pays customers $8 per month to access their social media accounts and view a feed of transactions from credit and debit cards.7

$100 – Luth Research’s “ZQ Intelligence” service tracks smartphone, tablet or PC activity in exchange for a payment of $100 a month to 25,000 opted-in users8.

$480 – Dutch student Shawn Buckles auctioned off his private data-including browsing data and email conversations- to The Next Web for a lump sum of $4809.

$2,733 – Federico Zannier sold his data (including keystrokes, mouse movements and activity screenshots) for $2 per day on Kickstarter, ultimately netting $2,73310.

How Do Brokers Make Money From Your Personal Data?

A study of nine key brokers found that they generated approximately $426 million in revenue by selling customer data via marketing, risk mitigation and people search products in 201211.

People Search Products ($52,694,542) – Personal identifying information used by both organizations and individuals to locate and track people. For example: When planning a reunion, you may find classmates by looking up past addresses or phone numbers.

Risk Mitigation Products ($177,842,153) – Demographic and personal identifying data used for identity verification and fraud detection. For Example: in order to clear you for a job, employers may use a data broker’s information for identity verification purposes.

Marketing Products ($196,206,100)  – Consumer contact information and marketing analytics used to customize marketing messages. For example: After you buy a house, a home improvement store might use this new demographic data to send you relevant coupons.

How Much Do We Value Our Privacy

Americans want to keep data private

But only if they think that it hasn’t been exposed already. A 2012 survey found that12:

11 percent of Americans would be willing to pay $1 per month to withhold their data form their favorite news site13.


69 percent of Americans were not willing to accept a $1 discount on their internet bills in exchange for allowing their data to be tracked14.

At The Same Time, We Like the Benefits of Shared Data

85 percent of U.S. consumers would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they were provided offers targeted to their interests, wants or needs15.

81 percent would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they offered incentives based on location16.

Americans Say We Value Privacy But The Numbers Tell A Different Story

Data-profiting company Bitzo gives its subjects (190 million business people) the chance to opt out of having data collected, but fewer than 1 percent do17.

Industry leader Acxiom gave more than half a million subjects the chance to opt out, but less than 2 percent did. Eleven percent took time to change some element of their data18.