The quiet invasion of ‘big information’

Read the full story in Wired, which is adapted from Data Cartels: The Companies That Control and Monopolize Our Information, by Sarah Lamdan.

When people worry about their data privacy, they usually focus on the Big Five tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Legislators have brought Facebook’s CEO to the capitol to testify about the ways the company uses personal data. The FTC has sued Google for violating laws meant to protect children’s privacy. Each of the tech companies is followed by a bevy of reporters eager to investigate how it uses technology to surveil us. But when Congress got close to passing data privacy legislation, it wasn’t the Big Five that led the most urgent effort to prevent the law from passing, it was a company called RELX.

You might not be familiar with RELX, but it knows all about you. Reed Elsevier LexisNexis (RELX) is a Frankensteinian amalgam of publishers and data brokers, stitched together into a single information giant. There is one other company that compares to RELX—Thomson Reuters, which is also an amalgamation of hundreds of smaller publishers and data services. Together, the two companies have amassed thousands of academic publications and business profiles, millions of data dossiers containing our personal information, and the entire corpus of US law. These companies are a culmination of the kind of information market consolidation that’s happening across media industries, from music and newspapers to book publishing. However, RELX and Thomson Reuters are uniquely creepy as media companies that don’t just publish content but also sell our personal data.

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