Previously posted on SSRN.


Data brokers are abuse enablers. These companies, which traffic information about people for profit, facilitate interpersonal abuse by making it easier to find and contact people. By thwarting people’s obscurity, brokers expose them to physical, psychological, financial, and reputational harm. To date, there have been four common legal responses to this situation: prohibiting abusive acts, mandating broker transparency, limiting data collection, and restricting data disclosure. Though these measures each have some merit, none is adequate, and several recent privacy laws have even made matters worse. Put simply, the current legal landscape is neither effective nor empathetic.

This Essay explores the phenomenon of brokered abuse: the ways that data brokerage enables and exacerbates interpersonal abuse. The harms of brokered abuse go beyond the fact that brokers make it easier to perpetrate abusive acts like stalking and harassment. In addition, people seeking to regain some obscurity must beg to conceal their information from every single broker’s database, over and over again, with little or no legal recourse if brokers reject their efforts. Of particular and yet underappreciated concern, prevailing approaches can exacerbate abuse victims’ trauma by forcing them to engage repeatedly with their abuse and vulnerability. Due partly to existing laws, people face a whack-a-mole task of pleading to remove their data from every single broker separately. Only by grasping this fuller scope of brokered abuse can we begin to regulate it.

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