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Data Brokers Draw Increased Scrutiny

The buying and selling of customer data is a multibillion-dollar, unregulated business that's growing larger by the day. Companies are selling information about you, and your company is probably selling data about its customers. Consumers are growing more concerned amid an endless string of data thefts and losses.

Want a list of 3,877 charity donors in Detroit? USAData will sell it to you for $465.24. How about 3,797 cat owners in Peoria? Available for $455.64. Interested in data on graduating high school seniors? The College Board sells that to 1,700 colleges and universities for 28 cents a kid. Then there are those who obtain cell phone and credit card records illegally and sell them to private investigators, law enforcement, and angry spouses planning a divorce.

It's a messy situation that's attracting the attention of legislators and government agencies. Businesses could find them- selves in a jam if they aren't careful how they buy, sell, and handle customer data; if they don't live up to their published privacy policies; and if they don't protect that data with ironclad security.

Taking The Fifth

Former data broker James Rapp testified last month before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee about how easy it is to obtain telephone and credit card data by impersonating customers. Eleven others identified as data brokers refused to testify, invoking their right to not incriminate themselves.

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