What we know about the biggest data brokers

Updated:

There are thousands of companies that buy and sell information about you, but many get their data from the big guns in the business. Who are they and what do they know about you?

 

ACXIOM

This company, based in Little Rock Arkansas, boasts total annual revenue of more than $1 billion. The company does it by gathering and selling your information.  One of its products, PersonicX, takes information about you and puts you in one of 70 categories. For example, “group 12-C financially challenged.” Here’s what Acxiom’s own marketing data says about this group:  “Prone to impulse purchases from mundane books to extravagant designer jeans, it’s unlikely they’ll accrue much of a nest egg in the near future.”  If you’re lumped in the “stable single group”, Acxiom says you frequently buy cigarettes and you spend more than $100 a month on prescriptions.

Channel 2 found this 252 page document that explains how Acxiom clusters consumers into certain groups.

Acxiom recently started a website called aboutthedata.com. There you can find out some of the information the company knows about you, and you clink a link that will remove data about you for online marketing purposes. You can use this link to opt out of online ads, telemarketing calls and mail from companies that purchase Acxiom data.

 

EXPERIAN

You may know the company as one of the three credit bureaus, but Experian is also one of the large companies that gathers and sells marketing data about you. One of its products is called “Behavior Bank.” Experian’s own marketing brochure boasts that it has behavioral information on 40 million households about items as specific as brand usage, health problems, interests and hobbies. That’s just one of the lists they sell about you, known in the business as “data cards.” Channel 2 found a catalog of all of Experian’s lists.

Experian lets you opt out of receiving marketing materials using this website.

According to the Senate Commerce Committee report, Experian does not provide consumers with the ability to view their own data or correct it.

 

EPSILON

Epsilon says it has data on 130 million households and it sells a wide variety of data, including health data.  From people who’ve had breast cancer to sensitive teeth, Epsilon says it adds 8 million names to its lists every year. 

Epsilon says its data is all “opt in.” In other words, people voluntarily gave up this information. WSB-TV learned Epsilon owns shoppers-voice.com, which bills itself as a “consumer research center.” Prominently highlighted on the website: “You could win $10,000. Take the free survey now.”

WSB asked Epsilon’s chief privacy officer Jeanette Fitzgerald about that. She said, “The survey itself is confidential.” Fitzgerald explained that they group similar responses together, and when a company wants to buy a list of people in a certain group, the names and addresses go to a third party mail house, not to the company buying the list.  Fitzgerald could not tell WSB-TV how many mail houses the company works with or the names of those companies.

And while the front of the website says your responses are confidential, the actual survey does state that the information is used for marketing purposes.

Some of the survey questions are extremely personal. Example:

Do you or any members of your family have the following?

Bladder leakage

Bipolar Disorder

Breast cancer

See a survey example here.

You can use this website to opt out of Epsilon products.

Use this form to get a summary of the information Epsilon knows about you:

 

EQUIFAX

Atlanta Based Equifax gave the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce details on the information it gathers. According to the report, Equifax maintains, “...information as specific as whether a consumer purchased a particular soft drink or shampoo product in the last six month … and the number of whiskey drinks consumed in the past 30 days.” 

Equifax told the Senate Committee that this data is not sold “as is,” but is used to create their products and models. Channel 2 found one such product by a division of Equifax called IXI Corporation. They sell information on people grouped together called “Cohorts.” Each consumer type has its own name, like Megan. People classified as a “Megan” are described as young, fashion-conscious, who enjoy, among other things, the latest in high tech. Click here for a brief description.

According to the Senate Commerce Committee report, Equifax does not provide consumers with the ability to view their own data or correct it.

 

DATALOGIX

Datalogix boasts, “Our data includes almost every U.S. household and more than $1 trillion in consumer transactions.” How do they know what you buy? Loyalty cards. Datalogix told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee that retailers share information including customers’ names, mailing addresses, email addresses and purchase history. In exchange for supplying the information, these stores can receive mailing lists.

If you have a keychain full of loyalty cards, you might want to ask the corporate headquarters of your favorite stores whether they sell that your purchasing information to anyone. Keep in mind, stores are not required by law to disclose that to you.  If you want to opt out of the Datalogix advertising, click here.

There are two possible solutions to keep your information private with store loyalty cards. The first option is not to use a card. The second is to get a store card, but don’t till out the information sheet with your personal information that ties you to that card.

 


 

If you want to read even more about data brokers and privacy:

Report by the Senate Commerce committee

FTC report on privacy

GAO report on information resellers

Everything we know about what data brokers know about you