Many people believe companies track them to better position their products and services and as such it provides a better service.

However, the relatively recent discovery that more than 50 million Facebook profiles of Americans were sent to Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based analytics company, for political profiling, might have changed this perception.

One of the largest data brokers is Acxiom which claims to have data on 700 million people globally with more than 1,500 traits per person, according to Marc Goodman, author of Future Crimes.

Marketing giant, Datalogix, claims to have $2 trillion in offline purchase-based data, that is, credit, debit and loyalty card information collected at retailer check-outs.

Here are just some of the things data brokers know about you:
  • They know how much you’re worth financially, what car you drive, where you go on holiday, where you live, your age and your hobbies. 
  • They know whether you’re good with money, whether you’re struggling financially, your health concerns and even about your love live if you use online dating sites. 
  • They know where you hang out and go, your race, ethnicity and any religious affiliations you may have, what you read, listen to and watch. 
  • They know whether you’ve just got married, whether you’ve just had a baby and your political colours.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Complete anonymity is virtually impossible but there are steps you can take to protect your personal information falling into the hands of data brokers.

Here are a few guidelines to stop outsiders from getting your data. They won’t deliver complete anonymity, because that’s near impossible, but they will reduce the data flood to a trickle:

Virtual Private Network

  • An important way to keep you're browsing anonymous is to appear to be someone else in a different location. This requires a virtual private network (VPN) connection which hides your IP address and browsing activities, which in turn ensures you can’t be identified.   
  • In most cases, your IP address knows your approximate physical location,  probably your time zone and what language you speak, all of which is good information for data brokers. 
  • Your browser can also report on your operating system, browser type, and what versions of software you run for browser plug-ins. It even reports on the fonts you have installed. This can give your computer a unique fingerprint. 
  • A VPN masks this information so data brokers can’t assign a unique ID to you, which effectively renders your web browsing data redundant.  BullGuard VPN is one of the best VPNs available, providing total internet privacy.

BullGuard protects your computer from spies, hackers and malware


Privacy badger

Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. 

If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser.  To the advertiser, it's as if you suddenly disappeared.

It doesn’t work in all instances though. If you buy something online you often have to disable Privacy Badger at the point where you make the purchase. The website wants to capture your details and you won’t be able to make the purchase if it’s enabled. Further, some websites won’t allow you onto the site if you’re blocking ads.

In-store shopping

Depending on how you feel about data collection you might want to consider only shopping with cash. If you don’t want a data broker to know you like several bottles of wine a week, are trying to control your cholesterol or are partial to gambling then only use cash for these purchases.

If you’re using a loyalty card get rid of it if you have your eyes on the data trackers having their eyes on you. It doesn't matter if you use plastic or cash with a loyalty card, because they track every purchase you make and some retailers sell this information to data brokers.