The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is showing its teeth today. On top of expanding privacy law to make it more difficult to track children, the FTC is now ordering data brokers to hand over the information they’ve collected on online consumers, exposing their privacy practices in the process.
The nine data brokers in question are Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, EBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future. All collect, analyze and sell consumers’ personal information to companies looking for ways to target their content, be it on television or the web. However, data brokers are not required by law to disclose to consumers what data they collect and how they use it, raising concerns among privacy advocates.
“The basic idea is that you have companies that are collecting massive amounts of consumer data and using it to make various decisions about you,” said David Jacobs, Consumer Protection Counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It might be whether you’re shown and advertisement with potentially sensitive information, or if you’re given an offer that someone else might not get. The idea is that you should be as transparent as possible in giving consumers access to this information.”
You may recall that Datalogix has partnered with Facebook in an effort to help brands and retailers track consumers both online and off. The partnership wasn’t without controversy, of course, and now that Datalogix name is being mentioned alongside other data brokers by the FTC, the concerns over privacy are only likely to escalate.
Jacobs suggested that the FTC’s main goal is likely to have the data brokers in question set up a website where users can examine how their data is handled and even opt out if they don’t want their personal information used for marketing purposes.
But the actions taken by the FTC are only the latest in a recent trend of scrutiny concerning the data industry. The New York Times ran a lengthy piece last June about major information broker Acxiom, whose large-scale data mining business netted $77.26 million in the last fiscal year off sales of $1.13 billion. More recently, the Senate, led by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, opened its own extensive investigation into the data industry.
Are new privacy and data disclosure laws the next step? That decision could be made sooner rather than later.