The word “broker” has unpleasant connotations: One thinks of arms brokers and hackers who trade information on the dark web.
So it will be no surprise that the new report from Incogni cites that “Data brokers ramp up lobbying efforts, spending $143 million over three years” -- which draws hostile fire to the marketing business.
“The concern is that, as privacy advocates and legislators work towards securing people’s rights to be left alone and forgotten, data brokers are ramping up their lobbying efforts to block or at least water down such legislation,” Incogni explains in a blog.
This would be a “potential win for this $260 billion industry, but a huge loss for everyday Americans,” it states.
Who are these questionable characters?
Here’s the top one: “Data broker owner Oracle Corporation spent over $42.1 million on lobbying, accounting for 29.4% of all recorded spending.”
In fact, just “five companies are responsible for $86.1 million of the $143.6 million spent on lobbying (that’s 12.5% of observed companies accounting for 60.1% of the recorded total),” the blog continues.
Accenture is a very distant second, barely exceeding $10 million, followed by RELX, Pricewaterhouse, Mastercard, Deloitte, S&P Global, Equifax and T-Mobile USA and Trans Union.
What were these companies lobbying for? As you might expect, corporations are concerned with a range of issues, but there are different ways of parsing them.
Here are the broad categories:
FIN (Financial institutions, investments, and securities), $62.7 million dollars
TAX (Taxation and internal revenue code), $61.6 million
BUD (Budget and appropriations), GOV (government issues), and DEF (defense) "comprised the rest of the top 5 issues by amount spent.”
Only $43 million was spent on Consumer Issues, safety and protection, which presumably would cover the privacy issues of most concern to the data brokers.
Of course, this category could also include workplace safety, which is important in itself but hardly related to “people’s rights to be left alone and forgotten.”
Still, one in four lobbying reports referred directly to privacy. Here is the ranking of the tested terms and the number of times mentioned:
The blog contends: “Based on the interests and priorities of their clients, it’s unlikely that these data broker lobbyists were advocating for greater data privacy or security. Rather, their lobbying efforts were likely focused on limiting Americans’ right to data privacy, as this aligns with the interests of their clients who rely on the availability of personal data to conduct their business.”
It adds: “Federal legislation protecting residents’ data privacy rights, in the style of California’s CCPA or the EU’s GDPR, would throw a spanner in the works of data brokers’ profit engines."
But that is unfair: Marketing and data companies want federal legislation that would eliminate the growing patchwork of state laws they now face.
Granted, companies are also concerned about the private right of action, which would allow consumers to sue if they suspected their data was being misused (or used at all). But this hardly supports the general thesis.
Incogni’s researchers analyzed lobbying disclosure reports related to “registered data brokers and the companies that own them.”