Dec 11, 2013
What Do Data Brokers Know About You?
Posted on Mar 10, 2013
By Lois Beckett, ProPublica
When you’re checking out at a store and a cashier asks you for your Zip code, the store isn’t just getting that single piece of information. Acxiom and other data companies offer services that allow stores to use your Zip code and the name on your credit card to pinpoint your home address — without asking you for it directly.
Is there any way to stop the companies from collecting and sharing information about me?
Yes, but it would require a whole lot of work.
Many data brokers offer consumers the chance to “opt out” of being included in their databases, or at least from receiving advertising enabled by that company. Rapleaf, for instance, has a “Permanent opt-out” that “deletes information associated with your email address from the Rapleaf database.”
In their privacy report last year, the FTC suggested that data brokers should create a centralized website that would make it easier for consumers to learn about the existence of these companies and their rights regarding the data they collect.
How many people do these companies have information on?
After the 9/11 attacks, CNN reported, Acxiom was able to locate 11 of the 19 hijackers in its database.
How is all of this data actually used?
Mostly to sell you stuff. Companies want to buy lists of people who might be interested in what they’re selling — and also want to learn more about their current customers.
They also sell their information for other purposes, including identity verification, fraud prevention and background checks.
If new privacy laws are passed, will they include the right to see what data these companies have collected about me?
In a report on privacy last year, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that Congress pass legislation “that would provide consumers with access to information about them held by a data broker.” President Barack Obama has also proposed a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that would give consumers the right to access and correct certain information about them.
But this probably won’t include access to marketing data, which the Federal Trade Commission considers less sensitive than data used for credit reports or identity verification.
In terms of marketing data, “we think at the very least consumers should have access to the general categories of data the companies have about consumers,” said Maneesha Mithal of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.
Data companies have also pushed back against the idea of opening up marketing profiles for individual consumers’ inspection.
Even if there were errors in your marketing data profile, “the worst thing that could happen is that you get an advertising offer that isn’t relevant to you,” said Rachel Thomas, the vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association.
“The fraud and security risks that you run by opening up those files is higher than any potential harm that could happen to the consumer,” Thomas said.
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