California Pulls In Over $50 Million A Year Selling Drivers' Data: Study

California, the state about to implement the toughest privacy law in the country, earns over $50 million a year selling driver’s license information to data providers, insurance firms, private investigators and other entities, Vice/Motherboard reports. 

The data includes names, addresses and car registration information.

Motherboard found through a public record request that the state Department of Motor Vehicles made $41 million in the 2013/14 fiscal year and $52 million in the 2017/2018 period on such sales.

The report does not cite purchasers. But Motherboard found in earlier nationwide reports that firms like data provider LexisNexis and the credit bureau Experian have bought such data.

It was not clear whether the list had recently been rented to investigators, but it is available to them. It is probably not available for brand marketing. 

Marty Greenstein, public information officer at the California DMV, told Vice that these sales further objectives such as “availability of insurance, risk assessment, vehicle safety recalls, traffic studies, emissions research, background checks, and for pre- and existing employment purposes." 



Greenstein added that the state takes consumer privacy seriously. 

In 1994, Congress passed the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which restricted access to this data, while allowing some exemptions. At that time, driver’s records were a primary source of age data. 

The 1994 law was prompted, in part, by the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, whose killer stalked her using DMV data. 

It was not clear at deadline whether the pending California Consumer Privacy Act will affect state sales, and whether consumers can opt out of such third-party sharing. 

The practice of governments selling driver information goes back at least a century, when Lester Martin, a clerk in the treasurer’s office of Story County, Iowa, sold a list of all car owners who had applied for 1919 licenses to a car manufacturer. 

Seeing an opportunity, left to found M and F Mailing Systems, which eventually became part of Reuben H. Donnelley. Another major seller of automotive data was R.L. Polk.


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