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What information do data brokers have, and how do they use it?

Posted on December 20th, 2013 at 0:29 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment


From the testimony, PDF of Pam Dixon (World Privacy Forum) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:

What do a retired librarian in Wisconsin in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a police officer, and a mother in Texas have in common? The answer is that all were victims of consumer data brokers.

More from Ms. Dixon’s testimony, PDF:

Data brokers collect, compile, buy and sell personally identifiable information about who we are, what we do, and much of our ‘digital exhaust.’ We are their business models. The police officer was ‘uncovered’ by a data broker who revealed his family information online, jeopardizing his safety. The mother was a victim of domestic violence who was deeply concerned about people finder web sites that published and sold her home address online. The librarian lost her life savings and retirement because a data broker put her on an eager elderly buyer and frequent donor list. She was deluged with predatory offers. These people – and 320 million others in the United States – are not able to escape from the activities of data brokers. Our research shows that only a small percentage of known consumer data brokers offer a voluntary opt out. These opt outs can be incomplete, extremely difficult, and must typically be done one-by-one, site-by-site. Often, third parties are not allowed to opt individual consumers out of data brokers. This state of affairs exists because no legal framework requires data broker to offer opt out or suppression of consumer data. Few people know that data brokers exist, and beyond that, few know what they do.

Ms. Dixon’s testimony triggered an investigation of a data broker’s list of rape victims by the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation have published a Committee Majority Staff report that’s available online, PDF.

A quote from the Executive Summary:

“This Committee Majority staff report focuses on data broker activities that are subject to far less statutory consumer protection: the collection and sale of consumer data specifically for marketing purposes. In this arena, data brokers operate with minimal transparency. One of the primary ways data brokers package and sell data is by putting consumers into categories or ‘buckets’ that enable marketers – the customers of data brokers – to target potential and existing customers. Such practices in many cases may serve the beneficial purpose of providing consumers with products and services specific to their interests and needs. However, it can become a different story when buckets describing consumers using financial characteristics end up in the hands of predatory businesses seeking to identify vulnerable consumers, or when marketers use consumers’ data to engage in differential pricing. Further, the data breaches that have repeatedly occurred in this industry and with others in the data economy underscore the public’s need to understand the volume and specificity of data consumer information held by data brokers.”

  1. I guess that puts paid to the “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear argument.” Some people need to be hidden.

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