Forget Facebook — Here’s Who’s Really Been Selling Your Data

Adam Scott
September 8, 2019 21:00 UTC

While many people remain at least partially wary of Facebook and other Big Tech giants leaking their data or sharing it with other companies, one government agency has been selling citizens’ personal data from right under their noses.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in some U.S. states has allegedly been raking in tens of millions of dollars by selling drivers’ personal data to the highest bidder, according to a new report from Motherboard — which managed to get ahold of a plethora of DMV documentation via public records requests.

While eight figures might sound like a lot, WXYZ Detroit staff in Lakeland, Fla. corroborates the information by having reported that the southern state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) vacuumed in $77 million in 2017, alone, from the sale of personal information.

Source: Shutterstock

Your Personal Data May Be Worth Only One Cent

The state-level government agency tasked with doling out driver’s licenses and infamous for its long waiting times has reportedly sold personal information to a large number of businesses — including private investigators who advertise themselves as spies.

In fact, PIs appear to be one of the most popular (and most problematic) clients — paying as little as one cent per record to gain personal information on individuals they’ve been hired to scope out.

Problems With the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act

Private investigators are able to obtain information from the DMV thanks to a 1994 law called The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which — contrary to its title — may be failing to protect the privacy of citizens in the more privacy-aware world of 2019.

Though the law states that officers, employees, or contractors of a state DMV may not intentionally disclose personal information from a motor vehicle record, there exists a set of defined “Permissible Uses” — the eighth of which allows “any licensed private investigative agency or licensed security service” to purchase the information for purposes in-line with the rest of the permissible uses.

The data most frequently obtained from the DMV include registrant’s names, addresses, zip codes, birth dates, phone numbers, and email addresses.

This news may come as alarming to some as, while there are steps that can be taken to help safeguard personal data online, there currently appears to be very little drivers in the U.S. can do about their authorities selling their personal information to private companies.

Last modified: September 8, 2019 18:51 UTC

Adam Scott

Adam lives in Upstate New York and has worked extensively in both fintech and entertainment media. You can email him at adamccn[at]protonmail.com.