A secretive industry sells Americans’ data to marketers, companies and governments, both foreign and domestic. Is your privacy for sale?

Data has become the world’s most coveted commodity—more valuable than oil, lumber or the water drying up in the Colorado River. 

And it’s prized even though it’s not rare or difficult to obtain. The dizzying growth of the digital economy over the last 15 years has fueled an explosion of data touchpoints linked to every American citizen. 

On the surface, the volume of data may not seem like a reason for concern, but the ways it’s collected, assessed and “commoditized” can be frightening. 

Data brokers—companies that collect, track and sell personal consumer data—set the stage for...

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