It’s an experience we’ve all had before: telemarketers calling during dinner or mailers show up from the postman, targeting us for products that we don’t need or want.
Imagine a member of the military returning home from overseas and getting a mailer in their name with personal details from a company they’ve never heard of or done business with. Or a woman who just found out she’s pregnant immediately getting ads for diapers and onesies before having the chance to tell family or friends. Or receiving solicitation calls about signing up for new credit cards or taking on a car loan when you get a new job. It feels intrusive.
Those ads, which have your real name, address, and phone number, aren’t a coincidence. Data brokers that consumers have no relationship with create custom profiles of individuals and sell them to anybody willing to pay for it.
You don’t have to take my word for it. A brochure posted by Oracle, one of the largest commercial data brokers, advertised a wide range of custom-targeted audiences. Some were generic, but some were deeply personal, reflecting traits that many consumers probably don’t know are tracked and don’t want anyone to track; “very low buying power,” “cold & flu sufferers,” and even “Military PTSD.” These audiences are not anonymized data — they contain real names, real addresses, and real personally-identifiable information about Americans, available to the highest bidder.