Where can you buy big data? These are the Top Consumer Data Brokers

In the digital economy, data is power. Multinational corporations have made farming data – which includes monitoring what we do, who we talk with, and where we go on vacation – a core part of their business strategy.

Data farming has grown exponentially over the past few years, thanks to social media, the internet and the birth of an “always-online” society. It was happening long before Google and Facebook arrived.

Data brokers began building databases in the middle of the 20 th century to record our activities and help with marketing, fraud detection, or credit scoring. They have happily adapted to the internet age to be able ingest and process richer, more insightful streams of information about themselves.

Here’s a list of companies that probably know more about us than Google or Facebook. However, we generally know less about them.


Acxiom

Acxiom began as demographics. It was Charles Ward’s side-project to collect data for local politics. It was referred to as “the largest company you’ve ever heard of”, and pioneered the concept of collecting data about people, segmenting them, and then selling it to other businesses for their marketing. It became a global leader in direct marketing and data-broking thanks to its partnerships with retailers and banks in the 1980s.

They claim to have data on “all but one percent” of US households. Their data is used to make 12% in direct marketing sales. Acxiom has been criticised for reports that individuals have had difficulty preventing Acxiom using their data or removing their data from Acxiom’s systems. In response, Acxiom has offered a global “opt out” and gives consumers visibility into what information is being held through the website .


Nielsen

Nielsen was founded in 1923. It has been a market research and rating leader ever since. It measures US consumer behavior through its National Consumer Program. However, it also collects data about consumers in more than 100 countries. It pioneered industry-standard audience measurement techniques for radio, TV, and radio. It announced last year that it would make its retail database, known as Consumer Packaged Goods or CPG (for a fee), publicly available to other businesses so they can build applications on the data. A fascinating graphical history of the company can be viewed here.


Experian

Experian, as it’s now called, was founded in 1996 when an American credit reference agency with the same name was purchased by GUS, a UK direct marketing specialist. GUS had been selling mail orders using catalogs since 1900. To offer its services in multiple industries, first financial and then expanding to all other sectors, the group combined credit scoring and the marketing expertise it had accumulated over the years. It began selling directly to customers by providing insight into consumers’ creditworthiness using data Experian gathered and purchased from third parties. It was smart (some might even say shrewd)! It capitalized on the growing public awareness about corporate data-gathering, which was making headlines at the time. The US Federal Trade Commission reprimanded the company for the way it promoted the service. They offered a free trial that was automatically (and without sufficient warning, it was claimed) converted into a paid subscription.


Equifax

Equifax, the oldest company we have covered, was established in Georgia in 1899. The company was criticised in the 1970s for selling information on people’s sexual orientation and personal behavior. This was in line with the theory that these characteristics could help predict how likely they would repay their loans. Equifax claims to have information on 800 million people around the globe, and had revenues of $3.1 Billion last year.


Corelogic

Corelogic provides services primarily to the real estate and mortgage industries. Corelogic is younger than other businesses mentioned here. It was formed in 1990 when Experian’s realty data was acquired by First American Corporation. It provides mortgage industry analytics based on data it collects from open sources, customers it owns, and information it has been able to obtain from brokers. In 2014, the US FTC reported that it had data on 795,000,000 property transactions and 93,000,000 mortgage applications. The same report identifies it as one the leading data brokers (along with Acxiom), in an industry that largely operates without public awareness.

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