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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Data Brokers Are a Threat to Democracy

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data brokers, illustration

Credit: Sam Whitney / Getty Images

Justin Sherman is a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative and a research fellow at American University's Tech, Law, & Security Program.

The data brokerage industry is a multibillion dollar economy of selling consumers' and citizens' intimate details. Data brokerage firms are middlemen of surveillance capitalism — purchasing, aggregating, and repackaging data from a variety of other companies, all with the aim of selling or further distributing it.

Data brokerage is a threat to democracy. Without robust national privacy safeguards, entire databases of citizen information are ready for purchase. Federal privacy bills that don't give sufficient attention to data brokerage will therefore fail to tackle an enormous portion of the data surveillance economy, and will leave civil rights, national security, and public-private boundaries vulnerable in the process.

From Wired
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