2023, November 23
7 min read
Matt S.

What Is a Data Broker?

Data brokers, or data vendors, are companies that collect personal information about consumers and sell this information to other companies.

Have you ever wondered how certain ads seem to know exactly what you're interested in? Or how do companies have detailed information about your preferences? The answer often lies with a somewhat invisible yet influential player: the data broker. This term might sound like something out of a spy novel, but it's a fundamental and integral part of our online ecosystem. Data brokers collect, analyze, and sell consumer information to various entities, impacting not just marketing, credit decisions, and even employment. In this blog post, we'll dive into the definition of a data broker, explore how they operates, and discuss their implications on privacy and consumer rights.

Data Broker Explained

Data brokers, sometimes called information brokers or data vendors, collect personal information about consumers and sell this information to other companies. This practice isn't new; it has existed in various forms for decades. However, the age we're in right now has significantly amplified its scope and impact.
Data brokers operate by gathering information from a variety of public and private sources. These sources include public records like voter registrations, purchase histories, social media activity, and browsing habits. The vastness and variety of sources make the data they collect incredibly comprehensive. The process begins with aggregation, where data brokers compile data from different sources. They then process this information to create detailed consumer profiles. These profiles can include your age, income, shopping habits, health interests, and more.
This topic is familiar, too. Many public discussions have already happened, including an HBO television episode for "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" (Watch it here).

Who Uses Data Broker Services?

The clientele of data brokers is diverse. It includes marketing agencies, retailers, insurance companies, and even individuals. These entities use the data for various purposes, such as targeted advertising, risk assessment, and market research.

Marketing Agencies

Marketing agencies and advertisers are the most well-known clients of data brokers. They use consumer data to create targeted advertising campaigns. By understanding consumer behaviors, preferences, and purchasing patterns, these agencies can tailor their ads to specific audiences, increasing the likelihood of engagement and sales. For example, if data shows that consumers frequently purchase organic food, a marketing agency might target them with ads for a new organic snack.


Online and offline retailers use data broker services to enhance their customer experience and boost sales. By analyzing consumer data, retailers can personalize shopping experiences, recommend products, and adjust pricing and stock levels based on predicted demand. E-commerce platforms, in particular, use this data to suggest items to users, often leading to increased customer satisfaction and repeat business.

Financial Institutions

Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions use data broker services for risk assessment and credit scoring. By gathering information on a consumer's financial behavior, these institutions can make more informed decisions about lending and credit limits. This use of data can have significant implications for consumers, affecting their ability to obtain loans, mortgages, and other financial products.

Insurance Companies

Insurance companies utilize consumer data to assess risk and set policy premiums. For instance, a health insurance company might use data about an individual's lifestyle, such as exercise habits and dietary preferences, to determine their risk level and corresponding insurance rates.

Individual Consumers

Surprisingly, individuals can also be clients of data brokers. People might use these services to conduct background checks or find long-lost friends or relatives. In this case, the data broker acts as a facilitator of personal information exchange.
An illustration by Notion on the data broker usage.
As we mentioned before, using data broker services spans various industries and purposes. While these services provide valuable insights and efficiencies for businesses, they also raise ethical and privacy concerns. Now, we will look at exactly how privacy is threatened.

Data Brokers' Impact On Privacy

One of the most contentious issues surrounding data brokers is privacy. Many consumers need to be made aware that their information is being collected and sold. This lack of transparency raises significant privacy concerns, as personal data can sometimes be used in ways that consumers might not expect or consent to. When we are talking about the personal data collected, it can include sensitive information like shopping habits, financial status, health information, and even location data – all of which pose significant risks.
These concerns are not just hypothetical. There have been instances where data breaches at data brokers have led to sensitive information being exposed. Moreover, there's the issue of accuracy. Data brokers may sometimes work with outdated or incorrect information, leading to misjudgments and inaccuracies affecting individuals' lives, such as being wrongfully denied credit or employment opportunities.
In response to these privacy issues, several regulations have been implemented. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US are prominent examples. These regulations aim to give individuals more control over their data. Under GDPR, for instance, individuals have the right to access the data companies hold about them, the right to correct inaccurate data, and the right to be forgotten, which allows them to request the deletion of their data.
Similarly, the CCPA provides California residents with the right to know about the personal information a business collects about them and whether that information is being sold or disclosed and to whom. It also includes the right to opt out of the sale of personal information.
It is also clear that there are significant differences in how data privacy is regulated worldwide. While the EU and certain US states have taken robust steps to protect consumer data, other regions lag. This creates a patchwork of regulations, complicating compliance for global data brokers and leaving gaps in consumer protection in less regulated areas.

How Can You Protect Your Data?

Protecting your personal data in the data brokers age is challenging but possible. Here are some additional steps you can take to safeguard your information:
Review and Opt-Out:
 Many data brokers offer options for individuals to opt out of their data collection. It can be time-consuming, but it's worth reviewing the policies of major data brokers and submitting opt-out requests where possible.
Use Secure Messaging:
 Secure messaging apps like Skyda are designed to prioritize your privacy and security. These platforms typically offer end-to-end encryption, meaning your messages are encrypted during transit and can only be read by the intended recipient. This is crucial in preventing intermediaries, including the service providers themselves, from accessing the content of your conversations. Download the app today (Click here).
Use Data Protection Tools:
 Consider using privacy-focused tools and services. For instance, browser extensions that block trackers can prevent data brokers from collecting your browsing history. Similarly, a virtual private network (VPN) can help mask your IP address and location.
Be Mindful of App Permissions:
 Mobile apps often request access to much personal information. Be cautious about granting permissions, especially access to your location, contacts, and personal data. Regularly review the app permissions on your devices and turn off any unnecessary.
Secure Your Online Accounts:
 Strong, unique passwords for each online account, along with multi-factor authentication, can prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.
Stay Informed:
 Keep up with the latest news on data privacy and data brokers. Being informed about the evolving landscape can help you adapt your privacy strategies accordingly.


By the end of this article, our digital world is in a weird position. Data brokers play a pivotal role in shaping everything from the advertisements to the financial opportunities offered. Their services are invaluable to businesses but have significant privacy implications for consumers. As individuals, understanding the role of data brokers, how they operate, and the regulatory environment surrounding them is crucial for navigating this complex landscape. By taking proactive steps to protect our personal data, we can exert some control over our digital footprint and mitigate the risks associated with data brokerage. As technology and regulations evolve, we can hope for a future where data brokers operate with greater transparency and respect for consumer privacy, striking a balance between the benefits of data analysis and the rights of individuals.
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