How Data Brokers Menace Consumer Privacy

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 1:02 AM

From smartphone apps that spy on you to wearables and fitness trackers, corporations mining your social network likes and connections, as well as online searches, more and more forms of personal data are gathered, cross-referenced and stored in massive databases.

How Data Brokers Menace Consumer Privacy

Let'south face it, over the following few years, it'south going to become increasingly challenging to defend your privacy online and in your day-to-day life.

From smartphone apps that spy on you to wearables and fitness trackers, corporations mining your social network likes and connections, as well as online searches, more and more forms of personal data are gathered, cross-referenced and stored in massive databases.

Just this year, Microsoft admitted Windows ten is harvesting more user data than any of its predecessors, fitness trackers have been used in Ct cases and the FCC fined Verizon Wireless for its hidden tracking technology known as "supercookies."

Who collects and aggregates this data? Data brokers. These murky intermediaries track all aspects of our lives and sell the data to any no of marketers and advertising firms, who may then re-sell it to other parties as well. The government doesn't regulate these brokers, and it'south unclear how safe they're from hackers.


Who are the Data Brokers?

Here is a list of fifty prominent data brokers, as compiled by StopDataMining. me.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. The data broker business is extremely complex and murky, with multiple layers of companies helping to track various components of our lives, from what we look for for or visit online to social media, mobile devices, the websites themselves love Facebook and Google, loyalty cards, publicly available records (e. g. voter registration, taxes, residence ownership), credit histories, employment records, medical conditions and so much more.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the government agency tasked with regulating this industry, admitted it doesn't even know how many of them there actually are.

Senator Al Franken pointed out one of the risks in a two thousand fifteen Senate subcommittee hearing, following the Experian breach: "We know beyond a doubt that the threats data brokers' large databases pose to consumer privacy are real; plainly, they're appealing targets for cybercriminals."

What's the Risk to Consumers?

During the January two thousand sixteen blizzard in the northeast, the pornography website PornHub released statistics showing which cities were the most active porn watchers before, during and after the blizzard. They also well-known that PC viewing was higher than mobile device viewing.

How did they do that?

Because PornHub, love other pornography sites, dating sites, cheating sites, shopping sites, medical sites and every other type of site out there, tracks its online users and - at minimum temporarily - stores that data.

Hackers can exploit the trove of sensitive information held by data brokers for a wide range of criminal purposes, with money typically the primary motive.

Cyber extortion and blackmail are favorite schemes, particularly for sensitive types of information (just ask the victims of the Ashley Madison breach). However, identity theft is also a huge risk - this may comprise bank account, credit card, new account or wire fraud, as well as tax fraud and insurance fraud.

This information could also be used as leverage against government or corporate employees for the purpose of espionage.

Public shaming without the extortion is also possible.

How Assailable is the Data to Hackers?

It'south unclear how seriously these companies get security, because they're not regulated. However, there'south number question that data brokers can be breached - believe me, number company is one hundred percent safe. And given the vastness of this field, all it takes is one feeble link to untangle millions of records.

Data brokers and websites could be targeted by hackers in any no of ways, but the most likely scenarios are social engineering attacks on their employees (e. g., phishing emails and 'vishing' phone calls), malware, web application vulnerabilities and insider threats. All of these could lead to data theft and, in some cases, they already have.

A no of data brokers have already been hacked, including Experian in two thousand-fifteenth; LexisNexis, Kroll Background America, Inc. and Dun & Bradstreet in two thousand-thirteenth; Epsilon in two thousand-eleventh; and Acxiom in two thousand-third. Over 1.5 billion records were taken in the Acxiom breach, but luckily at the time, the cybercrime industry wasn't particularly sophisticated and the data was only used for a spam service. Today, that type of breach would be catastrophic, leading to a whole host of nightmares for those affected.

The genuine question is, how are these companies that carry out huge data analytics protecting the data they've on us? Powerful encryption and information security standards similar to PCI DSS are vital and should be mandated by law.

How to Defend Yourself

While you can reduce the quantity of data they collect, there'south not a lot the average person can do to totally stop it. Remember, data brokers aren't just on the web - they're middlemen in nearly everything, from credit checks, background checks, car and residence purchases, insurance, tax records, telephone records, government service, voting, etc.

Basically, everything we do these days is recorded, and either tracked by data brokers or purchasable by them.

A few basic ways to defend your privacy online:

  • Opt out of as many data brokers that gather your personal information.
  • Consider using a live Linux image love Tails. It'south a practical method to avert being tracked online.
  • Establish a browser extension love Disconnect or Ghostery, which will monitor and attempt to obstruct tracking firms.
  • Switch to private look for engines love DuckDuckGo and stay logged out of online services such as Gmail, Facebook, etc. to create it harder for them to track your searches.
  • Limit who gets your genuine email address. Utilize disposable email accounts such as twenty min mail or ten min mail when registering for online accounts or services.
  • Utilize a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data. This will create it more challenging for data brokers to track who you are.
  • Create online purchases with a gift card or disposable credit card particularly for sensitive or embarrassing purchases.

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