"(The brokers' data base) says more about what the list makers think about people who live in Harlem than it does about me," she says. "I am almost as disturbed by what data brokers get wrong as when they get it right."
As technology and improved algorithms help the data brokers improve their results, Angwin worries that the resulting lists will become more precise and personal. They aren't just doing this to find the most accurate target market, she says. They are learning what people's vulnerabilities are so they can exploit them.
The price we pay
Jeff Atwood, a blogger in El Cerrito, Calif., who co-founded the programmers website stackoverflow.com, says giving up personal information is the price people pay to do things on the Internet.
"I consider it standard practice," he says. "So much that we do is free. That is the cost of free."
Angwin tried to get her data removed from various data brokers' records. "I was not very successful," she says. "They are not required by law to remove your data."
She was only able to find information on less than half of the data brokers. Only about half of those offered opt out — 92 out of the 212 she identified.
She posted lists of the data broker information on her website, www.JuliaAngwin.com, identifying those who gave her information about what they knew about her and those that allowed her to opt out.
Some wanted money to remove the information. One wanted a copy of her driver's license. Some required a mail form or fax. Others wanted too much information — such as a credit card number.
"They don't make it easy to get out," she says.
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