Report: Data Brokers and Sensitive Data on U.S. Individuals

Full Text: Data Brokers and Sensitive Data on US Individuals – Sherman, 2021

Overview: This report examines 10 major data brokers and the highly sensitive data they hold on U.S. individuals. It finds that data brokers are openly and explicitly advertising data for sale on U.S. individuals’ sensitive demographic information, on U.S. individuals’ political preferences and beliefs, on U.S. individuals’ whereabouts and even real-time GPS locations, on current and former U.S. military personnel, and on current U.S. government employees. It first describes the problem of virtually unregulated data brokerage in the United States. It then describes the findings of research conducted for this paper on data brokers openly and explicitly advertising sensitive data on U.S. individuals, including a specific analysis of data relating to military personnel. It then concludes with policy implications for the United States—including ways this data collection, aggregation, selling, and sharing threatens civil rights, national security, and democracy.

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Author: Justin Sherman is a cyber policy fellow at Duke University’s Technology Policy Lab, where he directs the data brokerage research for Duke’s Privacy & Democracy Project.