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Surfshark launches tool to stop personal info being sold by data brokers

By Catherine Knowles
Thu 6 Jan 2022

Cybersecurity company Surfshark has released Incogni, a tool that helps prevent personal information from being stored and sold by data brokers.

Upon the customers' request, the tool will identify and communicate with dozens of data broker companies, so that the persons details can be deleted from their databases.

The users will be able to follow the progress on how many companies were contacted, which companies have deleted their data and which companies are in progress of doing so.

According to Surfshark, leading names in the data brokerage industry currently own data on hundreds of millions of consumers, some boasting up to 1,500 data points per consumer.

Based on publicly available information and the company's correspondence with data brokers, the information they collect on a specific person can include not only contact credentials such as phone number and home address, but also ethnicity, religion, marital status, hobbies, media usage, purchase and search history, or even political affiliation.

In addition, this market is expanding and is estimated to reach US$345 billion in 2026. However, with the introduction of GDPR and CCPA, these companies are subject to giving or deleting information they hold on the person if they receive a formal request.

Even so, contacting each firm could take a significant amount of time due to the excessive response frameworks companies have crafted and perfected.

Surfshark's team of researchers contacted 36 data broker companies on their own to show how difficult this process can be.

To get a final response took little over six days from the first letter sent with each new data broker and more than 20 days with each established one.

As 36 contacted data brokers make up only 1% of the existing market (4,000 companies), it would take 66 years to finalise one person's data inquiry requests by hand.

Furthermore, 63% of the large data brokers asked for additional personal data which is not necessary to complete the inquiry (outside of ID copy), asking for a bank statement or even e-signature and thus prolonging the procedure.

Vytautas Kaziukonis, chief executive officer of Surfshark, says, "Data privacy is becoming an increasingly alarming issue, yet many people are still unaware of the hidden market that data brokers operate in.

"As the sensitivity and scope of data they possess widens, so does the need to be able to opt-out of it. However, based on recent studies, the actual process of taking back data is an extremely tedious procedure, which requires legal knowledge and lots of persistence.

"Incogni aims to help users opt-out of these practices more efficiently and exercise their legal right to privacy easily."

Surfshark is a privacy protection toolset developed to provide its users with the ability to control their online presence more easily.

The core premise of the company is to humanise online privacy protection and develop tools that protect users' privacy beyond the realm of a virtual private network. The company has been audited by independent security experts.

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