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Data Brokers tracking and selling your information

CINCINNATI (Paula Toti) -- Imagine a company knowing thousands of things about individuals like their shopping habits or sexual preferences. 
That's happening according to the Federal Trade Commission.  Companies that collect people's private information are called "data brokers."  The sources trying to follow the public are hidden but with the help of Local 12's IT guy, Mike Smith, Local 12 tried to bring them to light using special software.

Mike said, "It lets you know what's going on, like being away from home.  What 11 people knocked at your door."

Local 12 can't really identify the people but they can see the number of so called knocks at the door.  From charities, to car companies, online retailers, local and national news and content providers; there were dozens of requests asking about the content people are viewing.

The public can be tracked on our cell phones as well. Some of this isn't surprising but companies can figure a person's sex and age and possibly weight based on what they're looking for on the web.

The Federal Trade Commission is concerned about the lack of transparency and the public's ability to opt out.  The FTA sees potential for harm.  What if a person's interest in motorcycles is information sold to an insurance company which will now view them as high risk? 

People can try to disable things known as "cookies" their computers.  "Cookies" are the little tracking devices picked up on internet sites.  Some sites only allow a person to view them if they enable "cookies."

Local 12''s Mike Smith used what's known as a proxy server or browser extension.  One called "" claims it can block more than 200 websites waiting for information.

The FTC figures the extent of consumer profiling, on and off line, is so great data brokers often know more about a person than that person's family and friends.  The FTC says people's information often passes through several hands because data brokers share with each other.  One company it studied is so big it takes in 3 billion new pieces of consumer information each month.

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