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Improving Data Brokerage - Why Transparency and Control are Crucial

Updated: May 20, 2023



Data brokerage refers to the business of buying and selling personal information collected from various sources, including social media platforms, online purchases, and web browsing activity. Top Data Brokers include Axciom Corporation, Experian, TransUnion, Equifax, and Nielsen Holdings. Despite the prevalence of data brokerage in today's digital world, many people express discomfort with this practice.


In the digital era, the business of data brokerage, or the buying and selling of personal information gathered from diverse sources like social media platforms, online purchases, and web browsing activity, has become ubiquitous. Leading data brokers such as Axciom Corporation, Experian, TransUnion, Equifax, and Nielsen Holdings play a significant role in this market. However, despite the prevalence of data brokerage, many people harbor reservations, expressing discomfort with this practice.


Today, we’ll explore the criticisms of current data brokerage practices and how they might be enhanced.


Common Criticisms of Data Brokerage

  1. Lack of Transparency: Individuals often lack awareness about the collection, use, and sale of their personal information. This obscurity can breed feelings of mistrust and perceived violations of privacy.

  2. Lack of Control: Data brokerage takes personal information out of the hands of individuals, giving it to companies who may use it for purposes that the individual does not approve of, or approved of inadvertently when accepting a lengthy terms of service agreement with a third party service. This lack of control over personal information can lead to feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability.

  3. Fear of Misuse: The threat of personal information being used for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities looms large, a fear amplified by high-profile data breaches in recent years.

  4. Lack of Compensation: While companies profit from data sales, the individuals from whom data is collected rarely see any financial returns. Data brokerage takes personal information out of the hands of individuals, giving it to companies who may use it for purposes that the individual does not approve of, or approved of inadvertently when accepting a lengthy terms of service agreement with a third party service. This lack of control over personal information can lead to feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability.

  5. Ethical Concerns: Ethical issues center on the belief that privacy is a fundamental right, and any commodification of personal information is a violation of that right.

  6. Security Concerns: High-profile cases like the recent TransUnion breach affecting approximately 200 million U.S. customers underline the serious security concerns inherent to data brokerage.

Improving Data Brokerage

Addressing these criticisms requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders — individuals, companies, and governments. Here are a few potential solutions:

  1. Increase Transparency: Enhance clarity around data collection and use, thus empowering individuals to make informed choices about data sharing.

  2. Offer Compensation: Consider compensating individual data producers for using their data, establishing a more balanced value exchange.

  3. Facilitate Control: Provide individuals with more control over how their data is used.

  4. Enforce Stronger Data Privacy Laws: Governments can enact robust data privacy laws and encourage industry standards for data collection and use.

Improving data brokerage entails striking a balance between companies’ legitimate interests in leveraging personal information and individuals’ fundamental rights to privacy and control over their data.

As data brokerage remains a pervasive practice in our digital world, it’s imperative for individuals to understand how their personal information is being collected and used. Similarly, companies must strive for increased transparency about their data collection and usage policies.

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