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What Is a Data Broker?

Data brokers can collect and trade all types of information about you, but we dug deep to find ways to keep them from selling it.

All of our content is written by humans, not robots. Learn More
Gabe Turner
Gabe Turner Chief Editor
Last Updated Jul 11, 2024

Are you familiar with what a data broker is? It’s OK if not. Most people aren’t. To put it plainly, a data broker is a company that collects, reviews, and sells huge amounts of data about people online. The companies pull information from many places, including online activity, surveys, social media, public databases, and third parties.

Chances are if you’ve selected “accept cookies” when visiting a website for the first time, your data is getting sold to a data broker. It may feel invasive or make you a tad uneasy, but it has been normalized and happens on a daily basis. After all, don’t we all just click “accept” because it’s easier than rejecting or choosing what cookies to share?

As digital security experts, we have the best strategies and tools to keep your data protected. Continue reading as we walk you through the data brokerage industry, your consumer privacy rights, and how to stay 10 steps ahead of data brokers.

Pro Tip: Protect yourself from data brokers by using Surfshark’s Incogni. It will quite literally delete your data from databases for you. Read our Incogni review to learn more!

How Do Data Brokers Get Your Information?

We dug deep into several different data brokerage companies and found out exactly how they get your details. We found that they get the scoop on you from all sorts of places online — and even offline. The offline part shocked us too. Below are some of the most common ways data brokers gather your information.

  • Third-party companies. The least surprising way data brokers collect information is by partnering with other companies. They’ll either work with banks, marketing firms, or retailers, or they’ll just purchase data from them. Sometimes they simply swap information instead. Think twice about granting a site permission to obtain your data.
  • Public records. This one’s a bit more surprising. Data brokers do not stop the work online; they go offline to collect your data too. The companies will gather details from property records, court documents, criminal records, motor vehicle records, birth certificates, voter-registration lists, census data, marriage and divorce records, and any other list or record that’s publicly available.
  • Online activity. If you’re active online, a data broker is keeping track. They do that through methods such as tracking pixels and cookies using tracking technology. They usually use those methods to get data from social media, websites, online retailers, search engines, and other sources.
  • Surveys. Some data brokers will use sweepstakes, questionnaires, or surveys to find out more about you. They’re usually up front about that method and will direct them right at you online, on the phone, or through regular old snail mail. Sometimes they’ll throw in some incentives or rewards.
  • Data aggregation. This is a fancy way of saying data brokers gather information from many sources and then create profiles of people — like Dexter, only without all the violence.
  • Data scraping. Last, but not least, data brokers sometimes use tools that help them gather data from forums, websites, and more in large quantities.

FYI: The data industry is overwhelmingly large and widely accepted, but there are many things to be concerned about. Your privacy and the possibility of your information getting misused can make even the most public people uneasy. Learn more by reading our Guide to Data Removal Services.

What Information Do Data Brokers Collect?

Now that you know how data brokers collect your information, we’re sure you’re eager to find out what data they collect. When we explored these brokerage firms, we found that there’s no limit to what they gather. Data brokers will collect just about any information on an individual, from their personally identifiable information to who they stalk on social media.

What is LexisNexis? LexisNexis is a global company that provides legal, business, and regulatory information to law enforcement, government, and risk and law management agencies. Learn how to opt out with our LexisNexis Opt Out Guide.

As experts on this subject, we selected the most common information data brokers collect. Here’s what we found:

  • Financial information. Since they gather information from financial institutions, it makes sense that data brokers collect this data. It includes credit scores, income brackets, debts, and investments.
  • Demographics. Data brokers know your age, ethnicity, race, pronouns, marital status, and other demographic data.
  • Contact information. Data brokers also know details like your name, phone number, social media handle, and email address.
  • Online activity. Your online activity includes the websites you visit, your search history, content you engage with, social media activity, and purchasing behavior.
  • Health information. Don’t worry: Data brokers aren’t violating any HIPPA laws. They do, however, find smart ways to gather information about your health and well-being. That includes prescriptions (GoodRx, we’re looking at you), provider visits, and any wellness or health-related purchases.
  • Education and employment. Data brokers collect your employment history, education, previous job titles, and certifications.
  • Social connections. Yes, they also know who you chat with online. Data brokers gather information about your connections, followers, relationships, and interactions with people online.
  • Device and browser details. One of the most basic pieces of information data brokers collect is your device and browser information.

Did You Know: You can reduce the amount of data collected from you by using a VPN. Not sure where to start? Read our review of NordVPN and Surfshark, the two leading VPN services.

Got the Data-Broker Blues?

Incogni helps you steal your sensitive info back from the data brokers and helps keep you anonymous online.

What Do Data Brokers Do With Your Information?

We know what data brokers do, what information they collect, and even how they do it. One final piece of the puzzle is understanding what they do with all that information. They can’t just sit on it and read about people when they’re bored. That would be a waste of time, energy, and money.

In short, data brokers sell or trade all your juicy secrets. Businesses want to know what TikTok wormhole you fell into for hours last Sunday. That’s where data brokers come in. They help businesses target ideal consumers so they can increase their revenue.

Let’s say you landed on North Sea TikTok. You may start getting ironic cruise discounts. Looking at athleisure for too long during your lunch break? Next thing you know, you’re getting discounts from wellness and fitness brands in your email. Daydreaming about that three-story house on Zillow? You may get a few convenient real estate broker recommendations.

It can be more complex and also simpler than that, but that’s the gist of what they do with your data. Data brokers analyze it to execute targeted ad campaigns, business strategies, marketing strategies, and more for themselves and other businesses.

Pro Tip: Want to know more about the magic behind VPNs and digital security? We created a guide to VPN services that will get you to an expert level in no time.

How to Protect Yourself From Data Brokers

Believe it or not, it’s absolutely possible to limit how much information data brokers gather from you. Protecting yourself from data collection requires some know-how, patience, and a bit of effort, but if you’re willing to put in the work, they don’t have to find out whose Instagram profile you keep viewing after hours.

Below are some tips and strategies that help us keep our data private that may be useful for you.

  • Limit what you share. Data brokers aside, it’s important to know that the more you share about yourself online, the more at risk you are of identity theft. As cybersecurity experts, we know how important it is to avoid oversharing online. Do your best to keep sensitive information to yourself.
  • Review privacy policies more often. That may sound a bit boring or time-consuming, but reviewing a company or brand’s privacy policy will help you know exactly what data they collect from you. Here’s a tip: Copy and paste it into an AI tool such as ChatGPT and ask it to summarize the text so you don’t have to spend hours deciphering it. You’re welcome. If a company doesn’t have a privacy policy, that’s a red flag and you should probably avoid it.
  • Use privacy tools. The best VPNs work incredibly well to help limit data collection and the online tracking of data brokers. Consider using a VPN or other privacy tools, such as ad blockers and privacy-focused search engines.
  • Use a Tor browser. Tor browsers are great for keeping your search and browsing hidden. Private browsers will help you stay anonymous online and keep most of your data off the market.

FYI: If you think someone is using your identity or if you just want to stay informed, read our guide to identity theft protection.

Recap: What Is a Data Broker?

Data brokers are basically digital spies or detectives who work all day and night to gather large amounts of personal data about people. It isn’t limited to just online sources, but extends to offline places as well. The data sets are then sold to businesses so they can better target and market to individuals. Most of it is public knowledge, but there is a major concern about user privacy.

>> Additional Resource: The Best Data Removal Services of 2024

We figured out several ways to safeguard your information. The methods include limiting what you share online, opting out of data broker services, reviewing privacy policies, and using privacy tools such as VPNs, Tor browsers, and ad blockers. Doing all that allows you to take back control of your TikTok search history and your digital footprint. Just remember: You don’t have to be as exposed as the data brokers want you to be.