ExactData.com sells personal information that risks the safety of vulnerable populations

The information economy has created a market for the buying and selling of all types of data between all kinds of actors. Authors O’Carrol and Franco (2017) of Amnesty International, question the social impact of data brokers –companies that sell a range of data analytic services from ‘background checks’ to ‘lead generation’ to ‘prediction’– and how their services can endanger vulnerable populations by selling their personal information to anyone. For example, the data analytics firm, ExactData.com, will provide a downloadable database containing more than 1.8 million individual names, addresses, cities, states and ZIP codes of every person listed as Muslim in the US. The price for the database? $138,380 USD, or 7.5 cents per person (ibid). ExactData.com currently has a complete database of 200 million US contacts which can be indexed by 450 categories, including “Religion” and “Ethnicity”, or even “Household Income” and “Vehicle Make” (ibid). O’Carrol and Franco (2017) even discovered that ExactData.com has pre-made contact lists concerning specific communities that have historically been subject to hate-crimes, for example “Americans with Bosnian Muslim Surnames” and “Unassimilated Hispanic Americans”. It becomes clear that data brokers’ services, making sensitive information available at a price, risks the safety and well-being of vulnerable minority groups. Moreover, ExactData.com and peer firms, do not disclose their methods of data collection or processing. The public is left wondering whether the users that originally clicked ‘OK’ to consent to the gathering of this data knew how that data would later put them on a list that makes their religion or ethnicity available to the broader public (Ibid).