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Data Brokers in an Open Society

  • Date
  • November 2016

A sweeping data broker industry sells information about millions of people to corporate and governmental actors on both sides of the Atlantic. Data brokers, and the profiling techniques often at their core, are giving large institutions more visibility than ever before into people’s lives.

While some data broker products are beneficial or harmless, others threaten fundamental rights. Data brokers—and the information and inferences they supply—are playing central roles in key life decisions across a growing range of areas.

Police in both the United States and Europe purchase corporate assistance to profile residents based on personal data. Political parties target their digital outreach based on details of individual behavior. In the United States, prospective employers routinely turn to data brokers to purchase criminal history reports regarding job candidates (reports that are notoriously error-prone).

This report explores the need for a clear regulatory agenda for data brokers, and looks at the broader issues of automated, data-driven decision making by large institutions, when it comes to the key decisions that shape people’s lives and impact their rights.


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