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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The little-known companies that underpin millions of transactions on and off the internet probably know more about you than your closest relatives or friends.

Why it matters: Data brokers have been around for decades, but they've grown increasingly powerful in the internet era due to their ability to instantaneously capture information about people as they surf the web.

  • Most brokers buy and sell "third-party" data, meaning they collect user information, even though they don't have a direct relationship with that user.
  • Big web publishers, like Facebook, Google or even popular news sites, often buy data from data brokers to sell better-targeted ads.

The big picture: Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal last year shed light on just how murky those transactions can be, and how invasive it can feel to consumers who are largely unaware of the ways their data is being harvested.

  • A new Vermont law requires that data brokers register with the government, revealing 121 data brokers that mine everything from political affiliations to credit scores.

Yes, but: Despite increased scrutiny, data brokers are doing just fine.

  • Acxiom and Experian — two of the largest data brokers — have seen financial gains over the past year.
  • Equifax, a U.S.-based credit data company that experienced a massive breach in 2017, has largely recovered financially from the snafu, and Congress hasn't meaningfully addressed the incident.

Go deeper

Biden's centrist words, liberal actions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden talks like a soothing centrist. He promises to govern like a soothing centrist. But early moves show that he is keeping his promise to advance a liberal agenda.

Why it matters: Never before has a president done more by executive fiat in such a short period of time than Biden. And those specific actions, coupled with a push for a more progressive slate of regulators and advisers, look more like the Biden of the Democratic primary than the unity-and-restraint Biden of the general election.

17 mins ago - Technology

Review of Trump ban marks major turning point for Facebook

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's decision to ask its new independent Oversight Board to review the company's indefinite suspension of former President Trump is likely to set a critical precedent for how the social media giant handles political speech from world leaders.

What they're saying: "I very much hope and can expect … that they will uphold our decision," Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg tells Axios.

Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to attempt "emergency economic relief" by executive order

President Biden. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden will continue his executive action blitz on Friday, issuing two more orders in an attempt to provide immediate relief to struggling families without waiting for Congress.

Why it matters: In his second full day in office, Biden is again resorting to executive actions as he tries to increase payments for nutritional assistance and protect workers' rights during the pandemic.