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Monday, November 26, 2012
by Katie Johnson
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers Nov. 8 said that how data
brokers collect and use consumer information remains a mystery
despite receiving details from
nine companies, including several that collect information from
social media websites.
Data brokers sell consumer information to third parties for
various purposes, such as to verify a person's identity, according
to a consumer privacy report issued by the Federal Trade Commission in
March. The report said that concerns have been raised about the
industry's lack of transparency.
On July 25, eight lawmakers, including Reps. Joe Barton
(R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairmen of the
bipartisan House Privacy Caucus and members of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, sent letters to nine companies, asking them to
detail their data-handling policies and practices. Rep. Henry
Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the panel, also
The nine companies responded to the inquiries in August, but the
lawmakers did not make the responses public until November.
"The data brokers' responses offer only a glimpse of the
practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for
years," the lawmakers said in a statement. "Many questions about
how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered,
particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize
and rate consumers."
The lawmakers pointed out that several of the companies
indicated that they mined consumer information from social media
websites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Four of the companies–Acxiom
Corp., Harte-Hanks Inc., Intelius Inc., and Meredith Corp.–said
that they collect information directly from social media sites.
Epsilon Data Management LLC and Merkle Inc. explained that they use
social media information collected by third parties.
Several of the companies, such as Acxiom and Intelius,
emphasized that they only collect publicly available social media
Most of the companies, with the exception of Acxiom, rejected
the "data broker" label, the lawmakers explained. "One company
called itself a 'data provider,' while another reported that since
it only 'analyzes' data, [it] should not be considered a data
broker," they said.
In its March report, the FTC recommended that Congress enact
legislation to give consumers access to information data brokers
hold about them, but in the meantime the commission called on data
brokers to explore the idea of a centralized website to provide
information to consumers.
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