LAKELAND, Fla. — Records show the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) made $77 million in 2017 by selling drivers' personal information to more than 30 private companies, including marketing firms, bill collectors, insurance companies and data brokers — and made
Now, one Lakeland woman says she received an onslaught of robocalls, and direct mail offers as a result.
Sonia Arvin lives with her twin sister, Tonia Baston, who just moved from Idaho. Arvin takes care of Baston, who has an intellectual disability, and is her legal guardian.
"We took her to get an ID because she's a Medicaid patient," Arvin said.
Days later, Arvin said Batson started receiving direct mail offers for lawn service, credit cards, cell phones and insurance. They now receive constant robocalls, and salespeople have even started showing up at their door.
In Idaho, Batson lived in a group home where someone else handled her finances, daily living and healthcare arrangements. She had no digital footprint because she can't read or write.
That's why Arvin wanted to know how marketers got her sister's personal information.
"The only one that had it was the (FHSMV)," Arvin said. "Even if it's a public record in Florida – if we tell them we want it private, it should be kept private."
While the FHSMV sells driver data to private companies, those companies are not permitted to use that data for marketing purposes. Once FHSMV officials were alerted to Baston's case, the state opened an investigation.
It turns out that not every company plays by the rules.
Florida says it has banned data sales to three companies since 2017 for misusing driver and ID cardholder information. Under the law, FHSMV must provide driver information but said federal privacy laws and its own rules limit how outside companies can access Florida residents' personal information.
Read the state's privacy statement by clicking here.
One of the data brokers accessing Florida DMV information is Arkansas-based marketing firm Acxiom, which has an agreement with the state to buy driver and ID cardholder data for one cent per record.
On its website, Acxiom claims it has collected information from almost every adult in the United States.
"Acxiom provides clients with access to 2.5 billion customers and two-thirds of the world's population," a promotional video on Acxiom's website says.
The video also claims the company has a client list that includes banks, automakers and department stores.
When asked how Axicom is using Florida drivers information, a company spokesperson declined an on-camera interview but provided a statement through email.
"Acxiom acquires information from a variety of sources to inform its marketing and commercial products, including Acxiom's identity verification and fraud prevention products. We maintain all information in strict compliance with state and federal laws. But because sound data governance, including ethical and responsible use of information, is foundational to our business, we go beyond legal compliance to ensure additional transparency and clarity for consumers. To learn more about Acxiom's products, and the choices consumers have regarding the use of their information, please visit Acxiom.com."
Miami attorney Al Saikali, who advises his clients how to legally and ethically use public data for commercial purposes, said his clients are increasingly using public records laws to obtain information for a cheap price.
"We're only going to see this continue over time. Companies are going to continue to seek more data about you," Saikali said. "Companies are essentially paying for information, for leads, for lead generation."
Saikali said consumers can limit the number of marketers contacting them by setting up a secondary email account to give government agencies — which are only checked periodically for renewal notices and other important information — and only giving a telephone number to government agencies when it's necessary.
A state spokesperson said there's no way for drivers to opt-out if they don't want their personal information sold.
"The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides public records as legally required, in accordance with federal and state law, and as a necessary function in order for customers to efficiently conduct everyday business. The department has successfully instituted proactive security measures to ensure customer information is protected and any misuse of customer information will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law."
Acxiom does provide a way for anyone to request personal information to be excluded from the company's marketing data.
This story was originally published by Adam Walser on WFTS in Tampa, Floirda.