A bipartisan group of House members has released the
responses from nine data brokers about their handling of personal information, and
their conclusion is that the answers were incomplete, provided only a
"glimpse" into a still-shadowy world and that there were many
questions left unanswered.
One question that wasn't unanswered was just how pervasive
data collection is. Only one company provided figures, but that was a doozy:
190 million consumers.
"We want to work with the data broker industry so that
it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans'
information," said the legislators, which included Privacy Caucus cochairs
Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). "Until then, we will
continue our efforts to learn more about this industry and will push for
whatever steps are necessary to make sure Americans know how this industry
operates and are granted control over their own information."
Among the conclusions the legislators drew from the response
letters was that, with the exception of Acxiom, none wanted to be identified as
data brokers, preferring "data provider" or "analyzer."
Acxiom was also the only company to provide details on the
number of consumers who asked to access its information, which turned out to be
as few as 77 out of the whopping 190 million consumers it has collected info
Among the other answers the legislators found noteworthy:
In addition to collecting data from telephone directories,
mobile phones and government agencies, they companies were also mining social
media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn; the companies provided "little
information" about the distinction between the information they collect
(somebody is female), from information they create by analyzing and profiling,
e.g. "young female interested in weight loss, coupon for diet pill."
The companies contacted were Acxiom, Epsilon (Alliance Data
Systems), Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Merkle, and
Meredith. To check out all their responses, click here.