A Senate committee released a report this week (pdf) that said data brokers, the companies that trade in consumer data, are taking advantage of credit-challenged people, using big data to craft exploitative scams.

“The disclosures about U.S. intelligence activities over the past few months have sparked a very public debate in this country about what kinds of information the government should be gathering, and how we protect the privacy of Americans who have done nothing wrong,” said Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller.

These days, data brokers don’t just know our address, our income level, and maybe our political affiliation. They have collected thousands of data points about each one of us, said the report:

  • They know if you have diabetes or suffer from depression;
  • They know if you smoke cigarettes;
  • They know your reading habits;
  • They know how much you and your family members weigh;
  • And they may even know how many whiskey drinks you have consumed in the last 30 days.

Like the pieces of a mosaic, data brokers combine data points like these into startlingly detailed and intimate profiles of American consumers. Under current laws, we have no right to see these pictures of ourselves that these companies have created.

Companies covered in the report include well-known firms, like Datalogix and Acxiom, as well as credit reporting companies that also trade in consumer data, like Experian and TransUnion.

The Senate committee set out to answer four questions: what data is collected, how specific it is, how it’s collected, and how it’s used. The companies stonewalled the Senate committee on substantial answers to the latter two.

The report harkens back repeatedly to the good old days of data collection, when many of the same companies queried used demographic information like zip codes to help marketers figure out where to send catalogs, notes ArsTechnica.

The business of spying on Internet users so that the information can be sold to advertisers is one of the fastest-growing businesses today, explains Fresh Air.

Julia Angwin (twitter) recently led a team of reporters from The Wall Street Journal in analyzing the tracking software and discovered that nearly all of the most commonly visited websites gather information in real time about the behavior of online users. Visiting the top 50 internet websites resulted in more than 3,000 cookies embedded into a “clean” computer. Wikipedia had no cookies. had the most, with over 250 attached to their computer on a single visit.

The multi-billion dollar data mining industry is taking target marketing into a New Frontier. Every time you swipe a rewards card at a store, that data goes somewhere to get analyzed. Marketplace’s Stacey Vanek-Smith takes a look and visits a data mining company.

Location data has long been seen as the key to increasing mobile advertising spending, which hovered at $4.06 billion in 2012, according to eMarketer. eMarketer expects US mobile ad spending to reach $7.19 billion in 2013 and nearly $21 billion by 2016.

Mobile is expected to reach an 11% share of total US ad spending by 2016—when it will overtake radio but still be below print (combining magazines and newspapers).

Related Dailywireless articles include Behavioral Advertising, Advertisers Link Phones to More Devices, Behavioral Targeting: Kill/Capture, Behavioral Advertising Opt Out, NSA Stores Social MetaData on US Persons, Phone Companies Sell Subscriber Data

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