A Senate committee released a report this week that goes to great lengths to determine all of the things that data brokers, the companies that trade in consumer data, don’t want to talk about. The 35-page report describes some of the companies’ strategies for collecting and organizing data, but significant portions of the report discuss what the companies are unwilling to talk about: namely, where they get a lot of their data and where that data is going.
Companies covered in the report include well-known firms, like Datalogix and Acxiom, as well as credit reporting companies that also trade in consumer data, like Experian and TransUnion. In the report, the committee sets out to answer four questions: what data is collected, how specific it is, how it’s collected, and how it’s used. While the first two questions turned out to be reasonably easy to answer, the companies all but stonewalled the committee on substantial answers to the latter two.
The report harkens back repeatedly to the good old days of data collection, when many of the same companies queried used demographic information like zip codes to help marketers figure out where to send catalogs or area codes to figure out which towns to telemarket to. These days, our many interactions with the Internet—particularly financial ones—have resulted in an onslaught of data for these data brokers to not only collect, but to resell to interested parties.