Data Brokers and What You Can Do About It

Last year, Facebook gave users the ability to pull report to see all of the information it had on its users. People were stunned by the amount of information they had willingly provided. As we use online tools and do business on the Internet, our information is shared and spread like wild fire. Most of it is done by our own willingness! However, there are companies that are purchasing personal information from once trusted entities with our address, date of birth, social security numbers (gulp!), and more.

Although most people use Facebook as a social media platform, more and more users are using it for transactions. For example, when your birthday gets close Facebook will ask if you’d like them to donate $5 in your honor to a nonprofit of your choice. The catch is that you have to share the donate now link on your page. This opens up others to donating by giving their payment information. This seems secure, and may be in most cases (for now); it’s just one way something good could be hacked with ill-intent.

What is a data broker?

If you have ever received a call from someone you did not know and you wonder, how did they get my information? Most likely your contact information, at minimum, has been compromised. Data brokers are people that gather information about people and sell it to companies, individuals, or other data brokers.

There are 3 main types of data brokers:

  1. People search sites.

    These are sites where you enter in a piece of information, such as a name, phone number, address, social security number. Matching personal information is free or for a small fee. “Information can include aliases, birthdates, interests and affiliations, addresses and address history, education information, employment details, information on marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, etc., social media profiles, property records, and details on relatives. These people search sites include places like Spokeo, PeekYou, PeopleSmart, Pipl, and many more. These sites can be used to research people and find old friends to send them postcards. Because they give access to addresses, court records, and other information people would rather keep private, they can also be used for doxing.” (From Vice.)

    Dox: verb, search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.
  2. Targeted marketing.

    There are sites that mine data on people to classify them by marital status, health, age, ethnicity, education level, income, number of children, job industry, and interests. These marketing companies then sell these lists to companies that want to market to these specific individuals. Think back to when you applied for a credit card. A few weeks later you receive calls for other credit cards, time shares, or “you’ve won a dream vacation… if…”

  3. Identity verification.

    Each time a company does a background check on an employee or a finance organization runs a credit check, third party businesses are collecting data on individuals.  Many people fraudulently apply for various things using a deceased person’s social security number or other fake data, and so this service is critical. However, the risk of data breach and sale of this information is important to be aware of.

What to do if you’ve been doxed?

The best thing you can if you’ve been “doxed” or to prevent it, is to remove yourself from lists. Obviously, it is impossible to find ALL the lists and ALL the data brokers. Here is a large list of the known brokers. Taking steps to protect your information can also help. These include being selective on what and where you store your credit card information, your passwords, and even your email. Have you checked what apps are connected to your Facebook account? Privacy settings for Facebook, other social media platforms, and other apps in general, change all the time. That can leave your information in a vulnerable state. Check privacy policies often.


At Howard Tech Advisors, we manage your IT infrastructure so that you don’t have to. Whether you need assistance creating a disaster recovery plan or you’d like to outsource your IT needs, we can help! Keep up with our weekly blog to stay up-to-date on the latest tech trends, security information you need to know to stay safe online, and tips and tricks to effectively navigating an increasingly mobile world.

Don’t forget to check us out on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn too.