Who owns your data? Top 6 companies buying up data brokers
Personal information is more valuable than ever, with the data broker industry expected to reach $365.71 billion by 2029.1 It’s a rapidly growing and evolving sector, the inner workings of which are often mysterious. Many internet users may not know exactly who is capitalizing on their data.
Incogni’s research team analyzed 623 data brokers registered in California and discovered that the data broker industry is consolidating as it begins to form networks and chains of both ownership and information trade. Digging further, we were also able to identify some interesting trends that could give us insights into the current state and future of data privacy in the US.
- 1 in 10 data brokers belong to one of just a dozen companies.
- TransUnion LLC has the most data broker subsidiaries at 9, followed by Equifax at 8.
- The two companies that own the most data are credit reporting companies TransUnion and Equifax.
- Out of the 32 recorded instances of participation in various industries, data brokers operating under the 6 major data broker owners are most frequently found in the technology (20 brokers) and service (18 brokers) industries.
- 1 in 3 data brokers operating under the 6 companies that own the most brokers operate in the financial and communication industries.
- 16 out of the 24 (66.7%) recorded data broker acquisitions (by one of the top 6 or their subsidiaries) took place between 2019 and 2022.
- The most expensive (known) broker acquisition was that of Bureau van Dijk Electronic Publishing by Moody’s Corporation in 2021, for $3.1 billion.
The data broker industry is consolidating. What does this mean?
In business contexts, consolidation is the acquisition or merger of many smaller companies in the same or related industries into several larger ones. This enables companies to reduce costs, streamline operations, and expand their market share by acquiring or merging with other companies in the same or related industries.
The data broker industry is no exception. Besides expanding their customer base and enhancing their offerings, consolidation allows data brokers to gain access to new data sources, something that many brokers emphasized in press releases about their acquisitions as part of their main business focus. But this process raises some concerns, the first being security. The sharing of data might allow more opportunities for data breaches. In fact, two of the companies that own the most data among those we analyzed (TransUnion and Equifax, with 9 and 8 brokers owned, respectively), have each experienced at least one data breach. Unfortunately, they aren’t alone.
Consolidation could potentially have political implications as well, with some studies suggesting that consolidation can increase the political power of corporations. One study, for example, found that the consolidation of the banking industry in the United States led to increased political contributions and lobbying by banks.2
Consolidation in the data broker industry doesn’t appear to be too far along, however. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are four stages in the consolidation life cycle of an industry.3 While it’s difficult to say with certainty, based on the 623 data brokers we analyzed, the data broker industry appears to be entering stage two of this model – scale buildup. While there is still a significant amount of fragmentation in the industry, with many small players providing niche services, larger companies are starting to emerge as dominant players in the space.
Nearly 1 in 10 data brokers belong to one of just a dozen companies
With that in mind, we were able to identify some of those dominant players in the data broker industry. We found that 53 (8.5% of all) California-registered data brokers are owned by just 12 companies:
- TransUnion LLC
- Moody’s Corporation
- Experian PLC
- IHS Markit
- Vista Equity Partners
- CCMP Capital Advisors
- Publicis Groupe
What’s more, 147 (23.6%) of the 623 data brokers we looked into are subsidiaries of other companies. A total of 95 companies own these brokers, of which:
- 72 (11.6%) companies have 1 data broker as a subsidiary.
- 11 companies have 2 data brokers as subsidiaries.
- 6 companies have 3 data brokers as subsidiaries.
- 6 companies have 4 or more data brokers as subsidiaries.
Interestingly, we didn’t find any correlation between a data broker’s revenue and the number of subsidiaries it had.
The average acquisition price of a broker was 33% of the acquiring company’s revenue. Among the acquisition prices that were publicly disclosed, the highest, relative to revenue, was paid for Neustar by TransUnion (84% of their 2022 revenue). The second highest ratio was paid by Moody’s Corporation (59% of their revenue). In stark contrast, Experian’s acquisition of Tapad had the lowest price-to-revenue ratio at just 0.04 (4%).
It should be noted that Epiris was excluded from the average acquisition price-to-revenue ratio calculations due to its business model as a private equity company.
Consolidation is only picking up
For the 623 data brokers we analyzed, the consolidation process, including 24 recorded acquisitions, took place between 2006 and 2022. It’s worth noting that the data for 11 registered brokers was not available, either because no acquisitions took place or the information was not made public.
The period of greatest activity, however, occurred between 2019 and 2022, with 16 out of the 24 (66.7%) recorded data broker acquisitions taking place during that time. In fact, almost all of the acquisitions, with the exception of some made by Equifax, took place after 2017. From 2017 onward, data broker acquisitions accrued at an average of 3.5 per year.
2020 was also a notable year, with 5 out of the 6 companies we investigated or their subsidiaries acquiring at least one data broker.
8 other industries are being pulled in
The data brokers owned by the 6 companies that have acquired the most brokers operate and serve customers in a total of 8 industries.
The data brokers falling under Equifax operate in 7 of the 8 industries, the widest range we were able to observe. Moody’s Corporation and Epiris followed closely with their brokers spanning 6 industries. Meanwhile, the smallest variety of only 4 industries goes to brokers owned by DiscoverOrg and TransUnion.
The most common industry, by far, is technology. As many as 20 out of 35 (62.5%) brokers provide custom analytic tools and software to their customers, followed by 50% of brokers that provide their clients with solutions and consultations.
Taking the last spots are education, healthcare, and real estate, operated in by 1, 2 and 3 brokers, respectively. Only IXI Corporation (a subsidiary of Equifax) and Experian Health (an Experian subsidiary) operate in the healthcare industry, while the only one that operates in education is BoardEx (a subsidiary of Epiris).
Top 6 companies that own the most data brokers
TransUnion comes in at the top of the list with a total of 9 subsidiaries. Among the top 6 in terms of subsidiaries owned, it reported the third highest yearly revenue of $3.71 billion in 2022.
In 2021, TransUnion acquired Neustar for $3.1 billion, the second most expensive reported broker acquisition in our study. Prior to its acquisition, Neustar had an expected yearly revenue of $575 million in 2021.
When it comes to the motivation behind its acquisitions, TransUnion highlighted the analytical capabilities of the acquired brokers in two of its four available press releases. Another two emphasized the brokers’ identity signals and data assets. TransUnion doesn’t deny that owning data is a key part of its business focus. In fact, the company mentions the expansion of its data assets through the purchase of brokers.
Despite having the largest number of brokers, it’s also worth noting that TransUnion ranks last alongside DiscoverOrg in the variety of industries its brokers cover, spanning only four industries. However, it has the highest number of brokers in the services industry, with five data brokers, and the most brokers in the technology and communication industries subset, with four brokers.
Unfortunately, the size and resources of these companies don’t necessarily protect them from cybercriminals. As recently as 2022, TransUnion experienced a data breach that compromised 200 million personal information files.4
Equifax is second, owning 8 data brokers, and has reported the fourth highest yearly revenue of $1.198 billion in 2022.
In 2009, Equifax purchased IXI Corporation for $124 million, which is the 5th largest known price paid for a data broker.
They do take the number one spot in terms of industries covered, however. The data brokers operating under Equifax span 7 out of the 8 recorded industries, with only education not being covered. They’re also tied in first place with Moody’s Corporation for the number of data brokers participating in the financial industry. What’s more, Equifax’s subsidiaries are the second most prominent among brokers in the service industry.
Like TransUnion, Equifax also doesn’t deny that part of its main business focus is access to data when discussing its acquisitions of data brokers. In 3 out of 4 of its press releases regarding the acquisitions, Equifax highlighted the expansion of its data assets.
Like TransUnion, they haven’t been immune to security threats, experiencing a massive data breach in 2017 that affected 56% of Americans.5
Third place was a tie between Epiris and Moody’s Corporation, with both companies owning 5 data brokers each. However, Epiris came last in terms of revenue, having reported a yearly revenue of only $18 million in 2022.
Epiris acquired its brokers through its 2022 purchase of Delinian (previously Euromoney). At the time, Delinian had recently acquired Altrata which is the direct parent company of 5 data brokers, boasting a total of “more than 100 million profiles and 4 billion connections.”6
Epiris is a private equity company which uses investor money to buy and manage various companies.7 Therefore, while the company’s yearly revenue is the lowest on the list, the investors were able to fund the acquisition of Delinian, though the acquisition price hasn’t been made public.
However, we were able to find that, in 2021, prior to its acquisition by Epiris, Delinian (then operating as Euromoney) purchased the data broker Relationship Science for $7.4 million. This is the smallest known amount paid for a broker.
Epiris owns data brokers that operate in a total of 6 industries, which is the second highest, tied, again, with Moody’s Corporation. Most of the brokers (4 out of 5) owned by Epiris serve the research industry, which is the highest rate of broker participation in this field. Epiris’ brokers are also the only ones to participate in the education industry.
As for the motivation behind its acquisitions, 3 out of 5 press releases by Epiris or its subsidiaries mention datasets as part of the value brought to the parent company.
Moody’s Corporation, with a reported revenue of $5.5 billion in 2022, is also in third place with 5 data broker subsidiaries. Moody’s Analytics, a subsidiary of Moody’s Corporation, acquired 3 of these 5 brokers.
While only coming in at third, it is responsible for the most expensive data broker acquisition by far. In 2017, Moody’s Analytics purchased Bureau Van Dijk for $3.27 billion, a whopping 46% of the $7.1 billion spent on data broker acquisitions among the companies we analyzed. Before the acquisition, Bureau Van Dijk reported a yearly revenue of $281 million in 2016.
Moody’s Corporation also acquired Reis in 2018 for $278 million, making it the fourth most expensive data broker. Reis reported a yearly revenue of $48.2 million in 2017, prior to this acquisition.
Moody’s Corporation also stood out for having the second-highest number of industries covered by its subsidiaries, at 6 industries. Most of its data brokers participate in the technology industry through software development, they also have the highest participation rate (2) in the real estate industry and are tied for second with Equifax in the financial industry, with 2 brokers each.
Like some of the other companies on the list, Moody’s Corporation acknowledges that data access is a crucial aspect of its business when discussing the acquisition of data brokers. In fact, in 3 out of the 4 available press releases regarding the broker acquisitions made by Moody’s Analytics or Moody’s Corporation, the brokers’ datasets are emphasized.
DiscoverOrg (doing business as ZoomInfo)
DiscoverOrg also comes in at a tie. It takes fifth place along with Experian, with both companies owning 4 data brokers each. Its yearly revenue is also the fifth highest, reported to be $747 million in 2022. ZoomInfo, which is itself a data broker and a subsidiary of DiscoverOrg, acquired 3 out of 4 of the data brokers prior to its acquisition by DiscoverOrg in 2019. Since then, DiscoverOrg has rebranded and operates under the ZoomInfo name.
While we were, unfortunately, unable to find any information about the acquisition costs, we did find that DiscoverOrg came in last place, alongside TransUnion, in the number of industries in which its data brokers operate, with only 4 industries covered. These include technology, primarily through the creation and distribution of software. They also include the service industry, with 3 out of the 4 data brokers covering this sector.
In regards to motivation, DiscoverOrg and its subsidiaries also acknowledge that data access is a key focus of their business. In fact, in 2 out of 4 press releases following broker acquisitions, DiscoverOrg or its subsidiaries specifically highlighted the datasets that came with the given purchase.
Also tied in fifth place with 4 data brokers, Experian has the highest yearly revenue, having a reported $6.3 billion in 2022.
In 2020, Experian spent $280 million to acquire Tapad, the third most expensive data broker in this group. Before its acquisition, Tapad was expected to generate $50 million in revenue, which made it the third largest broker in terms of revenue.
Experian’s subsidiaries operate in 5 different industries, with 3 out of 4 brokers participating in both the technology and service industries. And, interestingly, Experian is one of only two companies that have a data broker operating in the healthcare industry.
The motivation behind its acquisitions differs from the other 5 companies on this list. In its only available press release, Experian emphasizes the value of Tapad’s software, rather than data assets.
Unfortunately, Experian has experienced its fair share of data breaches. The personal information of 15 million T-Mobile users was compromised in a 2015 breach.8 Then, in December 2022, hackers were able to bypass their lax security measures to access full consumer credit reports.9
Our study delved into the operations of 623 data brokers registered in California10, with the aim of determining whether they are subsidiaries of other corporate entities. We used publicly available information sources such as press releases, legal filings, and the brokers’ privacy policies, all of which can be found here.
It’s worth noting that as of February 7, 2023, 172 of the data brokers we analyzed had not yet completed their registration, pending payment.
Our research team compiled evidence of parent-subsidiary relationships through a multi-faceted approach. We started by identifying the corporate owners of the data brokers. Then, we expanded our scope to encompass the parent companies.
To gain even deeper insights into the structure of the data broker industry, we looked further into corporations with four or more data brokers as (indirect) subsidiaries. Through the websites and social media profiles of the data brokers and their parent companies, we were able to determine the industries in which they operate and other publicly disclosed information, such as the size of their data sets. We also looked for information on acquisition costs, revenues, and other reported data.
While conducting our research, we came across some potential parent-subsidiary relationships among the data brokers we analyzed, but we couldn’t find reliable evidence to confirm these links. Erring on the side of caution, we opted to report only those relationships that we could confirm with concrete evidence.
We also excluded some entries from the data broker registry that we deemed to be duplicated. You can find these cases listed here.
References Data broker ownership
- Maximize Market Research. “Data Broker Market: Global Industry Forecast (2022-2029) by Data Category, Data Type, Pricing Model, End Use Sector, and Region.” Last modified August, 2022. https://www.maximizemarketresearch.com/market-report/global-data-broker-market/55670/#:~:text=Data%20Broker%20Market%20size%20was,reaching%20nearly%20USD%20365.71%20Bn.
- Demirguc-Kunt, Asli and Ross Levine. “Bank Concentration: Cross-Country Evidence.” The World Bank (October 2000): 1–31. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/ar/979371468780328170/pdf/wdr27828.pdf.
- Deans, Graeme K., Fritz Kroeger, and Stefan Zeisel. “The Consolidation Curve.” Harvard Business Review. Last modified December, 2002. https://hbr.org/2002/12/the-consolidation-curve.
- Console, Richard Jr. “TransUnion LLC Confirms Recent Data Breach with State Attorney General’s Office.” Console and Associates, P.C. Last modified November 9, 2022. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/transunion-llc-confirms-recent-data-6828319/.
- Leonhardt, Megan. “Equifax to pay $700 million for massive data breach. Here’s what you need to know about getting a cut.” CNBC Make It. Last modified July 22, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/22/what-you-need-to-know-equifax-data-breach-700-million-settlement.html.
- Altrata. “Introducing Altrata.” Articles. Last modified May 17, 2022. https://altrata.com/articles/introducing-altrata.
- Epiris. “Who we are.” About. Accessed March 22, 2023. https://www.epiris.co.uk/about/who-we-are/.
- Thielman, Sam. “Experian hack exposes 15 million people’s personal information.” The Guardian. Last modified October 2, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/oct/01/experian-hack-t-mobile-credit-checks-personal-information.
- Krebs, Brian. “Experian Glitch Exposing Credit Files Lasted 47 Days.” Krebs On Security. Last modified January 25, 2023. https://krebsonsecurity.com/2023/01/experian-glitch-exposing-credit-files-lasted-47-days/#:~:text=On%20Dec.%2023%2C%202022%2C,birth%2C%20and%20Social%20Security%20number.
- Bonta, Rob. “Data Broker Registry.” State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://oag.ca.gov/data-brokers.