Senators John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D.-W.Va.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) recently proposed the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act, S2025) to provide accountability for companies that make money by collecting and selling information about consumers that are not their customers. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) explained the proposed legislation:
"Under the DATA Act, consumers would be able to access their personal information, make corrections, and opt out of marketing schemes. The DATA Act would empower the FTC to impose civil penalties on violators, and would prohibit data brokers from collecting consumer data in deceptive ways."
A variety of companies collect, and sell, information about consumers. During the past 6+ years, this blog has reported about some data brokers, including ChoicePoint, Acxiom, Intelius, US Search, Spokeo, and Lexis-Nexis. Several data brokers have experienced data breaches, and some have sold consumers' sensitive personal data to organized crime. Data brokers collect a wide variety of information about consumers including but not limited to: current and past residential addresses, landline and mobile phone numbers, financial records, products and services purchased, autos purchased, retailers you shop at, and a lot more. With the growth of smart phones, mobile devices, and wearable devices, this data collection is growing quickly to also incude consumers' geo-location information and movement in the real world, health information, and exercise/workout information.
With the rise of data mining (a/k/a "big data"), companies seek to collect as much information as possible about their customers as possible. By analyzing this data, companies can deduce your favorite colors, tastes, and related preferences; including whether you are right- or left-handed. Your personal information is bought, sold, and traded between banks, data brokers, retail stores where you shop, telemarketing firms, collections agencies, and your local government.
"“Consumers have the right to access to their personal data, the ability to correct it, and opt-out from marketing purposes, and Chairman Rockefeller’s legislation ensures these critical consumer controls... The data broker industry has for too longer operated in the shadows, compiling dossiers on millions of Americans. It is time to shine a light on this industry, and Chairman Rockefeller’s legislation helps put in place a system of rules that puts consumers in control of their information. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill...”
"The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) comes on the heels of an investigation and majority staff report by the Commerce Committee into the multibillion-dollar industry. Released in December 2013, the report revealed the breadth and scope of the sensitive data – including financial, health, and other personal information – that is routinely amassed by data brokers on consumers without their knowledge or consent. The Committee also held a hearing on Dec. 18, 2013, to examine the privacy and accountability concerns with the industry."
Kudos to Senators Markey and Rockefeller for looking after the needs of consumers. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) opposed the proposed legislation:
"Though similar bills have died on the Senate floor previously, the Direct Marketing Association says it intends to fight the DATA Act's progress “tooth and nail” due to the high profile it receives from Rockefeller... The section of the DATA Act that most offends marketing stakeholders would compel data brokers to grant consumers access to their data with the ability to correct it at least once a year at no cost. The cost would fall on the so-called data brokers."
You would think that an industry that wants to sell accurate information would welcome corrections by consumers, who know their personal information best. It seems that accuracy takes a back seat to profitability. And, the companies making profits with the information they sell are in the best position to absorb the costs of corrections. If they can't do so profitably, then get out of the business.
In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for Lexis-Nexis in its Dayton, Ohio headquarters from 1984 to 1986.