Cloud technologies have made massive computing and data base resources available to just about anyone who wants them. With those technologies, big data projects are becoming more powerful and available. At the heart of the big data movement lays the $200 billion data broker industry.

Data brokers collect base data from publicly available sources. Data collected includes bankruptcy information, voting registration, home purchases, other consumer purchase data, web-browsing activities, warranty registrations, and other details of consumers’ everyday interactions. Because data brokers do not obtain this data directly from consumers, most are unaware that data brokers are collecting and using this information. While each data source may provide only a few data elements about a consumer’s activities, through powerful big data capabilities data brokers can put all of these data elements together to form a picture of the consumer’s life. With just a couple of these six basic identifiers (name, email address, phone number, mobile phone number, IP address, tracking cookie) a person’s entire data available online and offline can be corroborated, and correlated into a frighteningly accurate “digital self” that can be accessed in real-time.

Data brokers provide data not only to commercial customers, but also to other data brokers. There are over 4,000 data broker companies operating worldwide, many specializing in the data they gather. This creates a network where data brokers obtain most of their data from other data brokers rather than directly from an original source. Some of those data brokers may in turn have obtained the information from other data brokers. Based on this structure, it’s impossible to understand the accuracy of any particular information or from where it originates.

Data brokers collect and store a vast amount of data on millions of households and their corresponding commercial transactions. In a 2014 report the FTC states, one of the data brokers studied has a database with information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements; another data broker’s database covers one trillion dollars in consumer transactions; and yet another data broker adds three billion new records each month to its databases. Most importantly, larger data brokers hold a vast array of information on individual consumers. For example, one data broker has 3000 data segments (facts) for nearly every U.S. consumer.

Data brokers rely on website registration and cookies to find consumers online and target ads to them based on their offline activities. In fact, over 1,400 brands sell offline purchase information from store loyalty cards to data brokers. Once a data broker locates a consumer online and places a cookie on the consumer’s browser, the data broker’s client can advertise to that consumer across the Internet for as long as the cookie stays on the consumer’s browser. Consumers are not aware that data brokers are providing companies with products to allow them to advertise to consumers online based on their offline activities.

Most disturbing about this big data trend are the inferences that are being made based on the data and how they might be used. Data brokers group individuals into segments so that marketing and risk assessment can be more effective. Those segments categorize people based on demographics, lifestyle choices, psychographic, and purchase behavior. Those segments can be used to filter content, display ads, or assess commercial risk. Where people are placed in these segments, and their accuracy are at the mercy of the data brokers and the quality of information they have gathered from their various sources. This practice can yield better results for users and businesses, but it can also restrict access to information and opportunity if used improperly.

This can’t happen in the Respect Network. All of the data generated within the network is bound by the Respect Trust Framework and is owned by the member. No one can use those assets without express permission so the ability to buy, sell, and trade data is severely limited.

While we can’t fix all of the scary stuff that exists on web, we can make sure those things aren’t part of the Respect Network. The Respect Trust Framework governs all data exchanges within the network and the Respect Trust Framework is all about security, privacy, and trust.