Lately, there’s been a lot of attention on the NSA, and how its surveillance programs may affect our lives. It’s often neglected, but still important to pay attention to the impact of data brokers or data aggregators on daily life. These are companies that collect huge amounts of data on individuals.
Data brokers are companies that engage in collecting thousands of details regarding consumers on various topics, such as their religion, political identification, household income, shopping preferences, hobbies and health concerns. Their objective is to aid other companies in targeted marketing efforts. Data brokers also sell their data to decision makers (employers or even the government).
These companies include traditional credit-reporting companies like Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They also include companies that may purchase information about individuals (sourcing from both public records and private sources), in order to compile large digital files on each person. These files could then be utilized by employers, creditors and landlords, to name a few.
Some data brokers allow individuals to opt out of certain types of marketing, however many data brokers do not have transparent systems to allow consumers to view their digital dossiers and to correct inaccuracies.
Unlike traditional data brokers, companies these days collect far more information on individuals. Such information may include very personal pieces of data, such as location, names of family members and friends, participation in social media, favorite shops… the list goes on.
Errors and Corrections
While it should come as no surprise that errors exist in consumer records, some of these errors can lead to serious consequences for individuals. Some erroneous information has been used to deny potential new hires, or to justify poor rates on loans. The main issue with correcting errors in different types of consumer profiles is that the responsibility to demonstrate the information that companies have is, indeed, erroneous, is the consumer’s.
Just this year, the FTC published its study on credit report accuracy. This was an eight-year study, which included 1000 consumers and reviewed over 2900 credit reports. The FTC study found that 26 percent of consumers had a material error on at least one of their three credit reports. This amounts to one in four consumers. Even worse was the fact that 5 percent of the consumers in the study found an error on their reports that – when corrected – placed them in a different credit-risk category, which could lead to receiving a lower interest rate on their car, home or credit card loans.
Reclaim Your Name
This summer, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill criticized the kind of broad data collection that takes place without consumer knowledge. She mentioned an incident in which the retail giant Target accidentally revealed a teenage girl’s pregnancy to her parents by accessing her purchase data.
According to Brill, “Reclaim Your Name would give consumers the knowledge and the technological tools to reassert some control over their personal data, to be the ones to decide how much to share, with whom, and for what purpose – to reclaim their names.”
Brill has called out companies privacy-invasive practices in the past. She mentioned that she discussed the possibility of Reclaim Your Name with some within the industry who expressed interest. She hoped that this would be unanimous throughout the industry.
The FTC has notoriously issued stringent regulation for data brokers, so there is a possibility that this plan will come into effect in some way in the future. Many questions remain, including the format of data and whether or not the program would be mandated or voluntary.
In the past year, data brokers’ information collection and privacy practices have come under intense scrutiny in Washington. Lawmakers have been calling for investigations. Thus far, the FTC has yet to issue its study on data broker practices.
This article introduces data brokers and the Reclaim Your Name campaign spearheaded by FTC Commissioner Julie Brill during the summer of 2013.
CIPP Exam Preparation
In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:
- Data collection and transfer (I.C.)
- Data processing – internal processing and relationships with third parties (I.F.a.-I.F.b.)
- Business intelligence and analytics (VI.E.)