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FTC Sounds Privacy Alarm on Data Brokers, Asks Congress to Act

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Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors\' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father\'s…
Peter Z. Scheer

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Ever heard of Acxiom or Corelogic? No? Chances are they’ve heard of you. According to a new 110-page report from the Federal Trade Commission, data brokers “collect and store a vast amount of data on almost every U.S. household and commercial transaction.”

These companies collect, analyze, trade and sell personal information, often without consumers’ knowledge. They even compare data with one another to better understand how individual consumers behave.

This is the backbone of the new information economy. The reason Google offers free email and phone operating systems is the same reason Microsoft is now giving away some versions of Office — your information and data are worth more to modern business than you probably realize. (Actually, there’s an app for that.)

Beyond the typical privacy concerns, there are numerous risks to the public. As the FTC report points out, if a data broker identifies you as a motorcycle enthusiast, insurance companies could decide to raise your premiums. Or what if a fraud prevention algorithm decided you’re not you, turns off your credit card and won’t tell you why? And then there’s just the gross feeling that some company you’ve never heard of knows what form of birth control you prefer and your favorite condiments.

The FTC is asking Congress to pass laws giving consumers access to their data and the ability to opt out of monitoring.

And perhaps there’s hope. As The Verge reports, a Senate Commerce Committee released a report last year that came to similar conclusions.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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