Who is a data broker

Data brokerUnscrupulous business

What data do data brokers have about us? We MDR journalists want to know more about that. First of all, we need one thing: data. We try to collect data ourselves with an online competition - a common method for data traders to obtain data. In order to have the chance to win a short vacation, the participants have to fill out a questionnaire - and we not only ask for their name and address, but also intimate details such as allergies or party preferences. Soon our small database will consist of 150 records.

We want to know more about the competition participants. So we get in touch with data dealers - not as journalists, but as management consultants. To do this, we are setting up a mailbox company in London. Three traders take a bite: They smell big business. Nobody checks whether our company really exists. For Gerd Billen, State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, this is a problem:

"I think that the data broker has the duty to check for whom it is enriching data. There can also be criminal purposes behind it, there can be political purposes behind it. So the data broker cannot act naively according to the motto" with the part of I have nothing to do with business ".

"It's not about discrimination, it's about statistical discrimination"

We phone and email the data dealers several times. We test how they deal with sensitive inquiries and ask about sensitive target groups such as homosexuals. Sexual orientation is subject to special data protection. But the data broker would find a way to deliver this data to us, he tells us on the phone. We quote from the memory protocol:

"From an analytical perspective, homosexuals are a target group. Each target group can be narrowed down with certain data points."

When we asked whether this was okay under data protection law, the broker replied:

"It's not about discrimination, it's about statistical discrimination."

A more detailed description of the investigative research can be found on the MDR website.

That means: Data protection law is being circumvented here. In order to get more information about our competition participants, we decide on a deal with AZ Direct, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. For a good 1,000 euros, the company "refines" our data: the dealer provides us with 30 additional personality traits for each person. We now know, for example, who among the competition participants likes to shop shoes online, who is considered combative or who has a "positive relationship with sexuality". The retailer does not want to tell us where this information comes from.

"Uncomfortably accurate"

Frederike Kaltheuner from the organization Privacy International has been dealing with data brokers and so-called profiling for a long time:

"Some of these profiles are uncomfortably accurate, they reveal things about me that I may not even be aware of myself. At the same time, however, these profiles are often completely wrong. That means there are two dangers. that someone can use private data against me. But at the same time, that I am wrongly classified or classified and therefore have disadvantages. "

Based on these profiles, we will decide which apartment we can rent. Whether we get a loan or have to pay the mail order company in advance. So our data profiles determine which drawer we end up in - and maybe stay.