Target can figure out whether you're pregnant based on what you buy, but it's far from the only company amassing and analyzing your data. Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission ordered nine so-called "data brokers" to explain how they obtain and share insights into consumer behavior, and this week the Senate Commerce Committee has published a report with the results. They're rather incredible. According to the document, companies like Equifax — generally known for its credit reports — are collecting details as intimate as whether an individual uses a laxative or has visited an OB/GYN doctor within the last 12 months. Another company, Datalogix, claims it has at least some form of data on "almost every US household."
Potentially worrying even in bulk
Though these companies claim that they don't share such details — merely aggregate them into larger marketing products to target customers in bulk — some of those bulk products could be worrying as well. The Senate Commerce Committee found that data brokers sometimes target financially vulnerable groups like "Struggling Elders: Singles" and "Credit Crunched: City Families" among others.
There's much more to read in the full report, but what you won't find is a great way to keep your data from being collected in this way. "Since consumers are often not aware that data brokers hold their information, it is not clear how they would be aware that they have opt-out rights, or how to exercise them," reads the report.
This summer, Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission did propose one such solution, though: a program called "Reclaim Your Name" could theoretically force companies to disclose when and how they use consumer data.