Why do companies buy and sell your information? What do they do with it

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Why do companies buy and sell your information? What do they do with it

In: Economics

Advertising. They want to target ads specifically for you for goods and services you might be interested it. Sometimes it’s just banner ads, sometimes you’ll get unsolicited phone calls, but it’s always just for advertising/marketing purposes.

It’s half of the way they can continue as a business. They use you as free labor to provide their content, telling you that they’re providing a service to you, then they sell all that free labor in many forms, mostly, as you say, your information.

They don’t care about “you” specifically, they care about building profiles based on large data sets.

For example, let’s say that you’re selling a specific type of home decor, like one of those “live, love, laugh” signs. You might find that your average buyer is a 45-60 year old woman, who has purchased a country music CD in the past 30 days, and who drives an american made car that seats 5 or more people.

Now when the advertising systems see a new person who has those characteristics, they know to advertise that product, to the person who has been shown to purchase that type of item.

And yes, it does get this specific – actually WAYYYYY more specific.

Mostly for analytics and statistical data.

Companies, such as the SCL Group, sell such data to advertising, media, political campaigns, social media, pretty much anyone.

The trend is now data mining and behavioral consulting businesses who will use this data to build strategies in other industries, such as marketing.

However, there have been massive scandals recently in how this data is sourced. *Cambridge Analytica*- a subsidiary of SCL Group- was caught hacking tens of millions of Facebook accounts using Russian software.

The subsidiary was set up by Steve Bannon *(Trump’s campaign strategist, WH CoS)*, the Mercer sisters *(Republican funders, propagandists)* and Alexander Nix *(political consultant, SCL director)* for the purpose of studying social media users political leanings during the 2016 Trump campaign. Then they would use the results to dissiminate false information back onto Facebook to manipulate the voters.

Facebook users would be clicking on game apps and surveys enabling Nix’s software to infiltrate accounts accessing their personal content, which isn’t illegal technically. So when they were caught, the UK government just kicked them out the country and they then just set up shop elsewhere, hiding in a chain of other subsidiaries.

They would also sell this data to call centres and marketing companies. Hence, why you get these annoying cold calls. Media franchise also use this data for their demographics, as in news, TV content, etc.

A good example is this BS about *”Covid being a biotech weapon released by a Wuhan lab”*. Conservative strategists have clearly used such data to build a narrative on social media as weaponized information for their own political gain.

If you don’t want people accessing your online content and accounts, stay away from surveys and apps and start using anonymously.

So google today knows – at every periodic interval – how many people searched for “buy engine oil for toyota car”. They also know different aspects of these people groups – for example they know the age profile, gender, location, likes and dislikes, past activities, past purchases, recent interests etc. Much of this information is anonymized in a way that it is pinned to certain groups rather than individuals.

Now if you own a engine oil filter company – you might want this data from google. This will help you create a heat map – showing which locations, age groups etc. should you target for your product. Based on the data analysis – you may create an online / offline campaign to sell your oil filters to these people (who will start seeing your advertisements on their feed when they search online for oil change / engine oil etc).

This is a relatively innocent example. The same data can be used to target people with specific “agenda” messages – like anti-vax, brexit, voter fraud etc. So now you know that the data itself is like a knife – neither dangerous nor beneficial – it is the use / user of that data that makes it dangerous or beneficial.

There are different ways it can be used. It can be used on an individual basis to determine whether you’re a potential customer for other services. A list of 5-star hotel guests might be valuable to a luxury car brand, or a list of people who recently bought houses might be useful to a furniture company or life insurance company.

Data is also useful on an aggregate level, helping spot trends. Maybe grocery store data showed a high correlation with buying certain items together, which helped show how products were being used together. This can guide new products or how to market them. Maybe there was first data showing a prevalence to people buying Velveeta and Rotel chili pepppers which lead to them being marketed together promoting spicy queso dip and driving up sales of both.

There might be correlations that are less obvious, too. Maybe there happens to be a connection between drivers of Honda minivans going to Starbucks while drivers of Chrysler minivans going to Dunkin. Marketers could try to win over customers from the other camp more targeted, or use that to lean into the trend and market harder to this identified niche.