FTC Action on Data Brokers. It's time to uncover stealth surveillance practices tracking, analyzing, scoring and targeting consumers
By: Jeff Chester | Dec 18 2012
The dramatic growth of the data broker industry, fueled by information on consumers culled from the Internet, social media, mobile phones, and in-store shopping, has created a multitude of all seeing eyes spying on Americans everyday. A digital gold mine of infinite details is harvested about each of us--what we buy, who are friends are, how much we earn, our ethnicity, health concerns, location, etc. For the most part, these records are off limits to consumers, who can't really discover what they say about us--including the likely errors they may contain.
Today's action by the FTC will unmask this largely stealth consumer surveillance industry. It will shine a powerful regulatory spotlight on such disturbing practices as the use of so-called "e-scores," which are used to signal to others information about our creditworthiness, potential revenues for marketers or even whether our calls for service should be answered first by telephone operators. Our data is sold to the highest commercial bidder in milliseconds, who can use the information for almost any purpose--yet it is unavailable so a consumer can review or challenge it. The data broker business, which now comprises far-reaching partnerships between numerous small and large companies, should not be permitted to operate without ensuring transparency and control to the individual consumer. That's especially important in this era of Big Data shaping our democracy.
We are also gratified that the FTC asked for databrokers to supply information related to both children and adolescents.
For a just published report on digital databroker practices, the FCRA, and consumer protection written by Ed Mierzwinski of USPIRG and Jeff Chester of CDD, go to SSRN.
For an example of databroker techniques, see attached.