Commentary

Congress Concerned About 'Hidden Dossiers' By Data Brokers

This March, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that Congress pass legislation requiring data brokers to give consumers access to information about them. The FTC also urged data brokers to create a centralized site to inform consumers how their data is collected and used.


Now, some members of Congress also are targeting the data-broker industry. A coalition of eight House members said this week that they're concerned that data brokers have combined offline and online information to create "hidden dossiers" on nearly everyone in the U.S.

The "large scale aggregation of the personal information of hundreds of millions of American citizens raises a number of serious privacy concerns," the lawmakers say in letters to nine companies. The letters were signed by eight Congress members, including Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), who lead a bipartisan House caucus about privacy.

The House members ask data brokers to answer a host of detailed questions, including whether they gather data from Facebook or other social sites and whether they collect information about people's mobile activity. The officials specifically ask whether information about people's mobile activity is used for targeting on real-time ad exchanges.

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Letters were sent to Acxiom, Epsilon, Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, FICO, Merkle and Meredith Corp.

The lawmakers also ask the companies whether consumers can obtain information about themselves, delete data or opt out of its collection.

The move by Congress comes several days after a report in The New York Times  highlighted just how difficult it is for consumers to learn what information about them is held by data brokers.

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