Data brokers have been operating in the dark for years. If you’re interested in digital privacy, the fact that your information is regularly traded by hundreds of secretive companies will come as no surprise. What’s less clear is who these organisations are, what information they store, and who exactly they’re working with. Thanks to a new state law in Vermont, companies trading in the third-party data of residents must register with the state. The resulting registry gives us a rare, passing glance into a thriving economy that operates mostly under the radar, and often with little oversight.
Data brokers have been silently providing businesses with your information for a long time. Advertising is just one of many functions: this data is used for shaping the terms of personal loans, restricting services to certain demographics, informing shadow credit scores, and much more. Until now, these practices have existed in a regulatory near-vacuum; as long as brokers stepped carefully, they could maintain what amounts to a comprehensive shadow profile of unwitting consumers.
Implemented in January of 2019, Vermont’s new law marks the first piece of legislation governing this murky industry – and the first of its kind to address the problem directly. So far, 121 companies have been registered, shedding light on an expansive and diverse array of companies from the obscure and relatively unknown to the quiet giants of the data industry.
The record of active organisations includes branches of the data giant Experian, people search engines like Spy Dialer and Spokeo, and a variety of smaller organizations that range in purpose from helping landlords vet tenants to delivering advertising prospects to the insurance industry.
Having faced strong opposition in the legislature last year, the law has since won the approval of consumer advocates who argue it’ll help normal …