The following script is from "The Data Brokers" which aired on March 9, 2014. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Graham Messick and Maria Gavrilovic, producers.
Over the past six months or so, a huge amount of attention has been paid to government snooping, and the bulk collection and storage of vast amounts of raw data in the name of national security. What most of you don't know, or are just beginning to realize, is that a much greater and more immediate threat to your privacy is coming from thousands of companies you've probably never heard of, in the name of commerce.
They're called data brokers, and they are collecting, analyzing and packaging some of our most sensitive personal information and selling it as a commodity...to each other, to advertisers, even the government, often without our direct knowledge. Much of this is the kind of harmless consumer marketing that's been going on for decades. What's changed is the volume and nature of the data being mined from the Internet and our mobile devices, and the growth of a multibillion dollar industry that operates in the shadows with virtually no oversight.
Companies and marketing firms have been gathering information about customers and potential customers for years, collecting their names and addresses, tracking credit card purchases, and asking them to fill out questionnaires, so they can offer discounts and send catalogues. But today we are giving up more and more private information online without knowing that it's being harvested and personalized and sold to lots of different people...our likes and dislikes, our closest friends, our bad habits, even your daily movements, both on and offline. Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill says we have lost control of our most personal information.