The Danger of Data Brokers

The New York Times editorial board (via Sarah Jeong):

But search engines put the home addresses of the entire nation a few keystrokes away. And there’s an entirely legal industry that peddles that and other personal information for a price. Search for a name in Google, and you may very well find a number of data brokers offering to sell information for a couple of dollars — if not offering it up for free.

The data comes from a number of places, including property and voting records, which are often public. (In some states, voters may apply to have their information in public voter rolls concealed by filing a form stapled to a copy of a restraining order or an affidavit that they fear for their safety.) But the data also could have been sold through the private sector — harvested, for instance, from a grocery store rewards card.

Once the information is out, it spreads — sometimes scraped, sometimes bought and sold — among data brokers. Some are sites that operate as low-touch private detectives, hanging their shingle on the first page of Google results. Anyone trying to remove information must contact dozens of different services to do so. Some remove information only for a fee.

It’s wild to me that the White Pages has been made available online, and that it — like pretty much every other people searching website — requires you to opt out of having your address, phone number, and family connections publicly-available to anyone.