Data brokers could be selling your personal information for pennies

New privacy protection software, 'Track-Off,' blocks illegal brokers

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - The push to protect your personal information from web pirates and data brokers  will take center stage on Capitol Hill later this month as Washington lawmakers meet to develop “data privacy” legislation to protect consumer data being sold on the dark web.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 27 in a meeting Chandler Givens, the CEO of Baltimore-based Track-Off, said is badly needed.

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“There are over 4,000 data brokers worldwide that we know of,” Givens said. “There are also countless individuals and organizations selling this type of information off the books.”

Those “off the book” deals involve the sale of personal data ranging from finances, medical records and even favorite restaurants.

That information, if it ends up in the wrong hands, can be used to create new credit and bank accounts anywhere in the world.

“The latest data we have suggests that data brokers have as much as several thousand pieces of information of every U.S. consumer, Givens said. “What we basically do is scramble the data used by these companies to identify your device and that, in turn, is used to identify you.”

The Track-Off software uses an algorithm to essentially shield your data as you browse the web.

News 6 investigator Mike Holfeld decided to see what brokers could access from his work email address. For 30 cents, the Track-Off staff was able to get an old password. It was unclear how much information was being sold from his personal email.

“We like to think we’re winning, but they have such tremendous reach,” Givens said. “ It’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s something that we’re focused on.”

Ed Neuba, a former Cisco engineer turned equities investment trader, checked the dark web this week and found 14 breaches of his old passwords being sold in various exchanges. His current information has not surfaced.

Neuba told News 6 he invested in the Track-Off software a few months ago, and has been pleased with the results.

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“If anyone was looking over my shoulder, I could lose an awful lot of money,” he said.

Givens said the data collecting business is big because companies are trying to ”understand their visitors.”

But when events like the Equifax data breach hit, the consequences can be devastating to the people who have their profiles stolen.

Security experts argue that data libraries have too much information -- from the military background of a disabled veteran, a person diagnosed with diabetes, the types of colleges your children are considering, income levels and your past addresses.

“You know, the CEO of Apple recently said, this is a private form of surveillance," Givens said. “I think that’s exactly how it should be characterized.”

The Track-Off software sells for about $30 a year.

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