NYT: The Man Who Trapped Us in Databases

NYT: The Man Who Trapped Us in Databases by McKenzie Funk

Hank Asher was a drug smuggler with a head for numbers — until he figured out how to turn Americans’ private information into a big business.

One Saturday night a decade ago in South Florida, hundreds of mourners filed into the Boca Raton Resort & Club, a pink palazzo relic of the Roaring ’20s, and settled at tables in its Grand Ballroom. The dress code for the evening was “Hank casual,” and the mood, in keeping with the man being honored, was surprisingly exuberant. “Hank” was Hank Asher, the multimillionaire king of the data brokers, and the event marked not so much the death of a man as the birth of a ghost.

In pages of tributes to Asher on his website and in The Palm Beach Post — as well as in conversations with me over the years that followed, as I became more obsessed with him and his career — friends couldn’t stop marveling at his charm, his daring, his generosity, his volatility, his partying, his sleeplessness, his middle-of-the-night phone calls, his thousand-yard stares, his maddening disdain for social niceties and his superhuman, almost computerlike ability to take in information and discern patterns. He was also described as turbulent, sometimes violent, not always right in the head. You never knew what he would do next, so you couldn’t turn away.

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