The chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus just released the responses they received from nine major data brokers whom they queried in July about how each broker collects, assembles and sells consumer information to third parties. In their responses, the nine companies — Acxiom, Epsilon, Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Merkle and Meredith Corp. – generally asserted that they were not data brokers. Some companies claimed they analyze data rather than broker it. Copies of the brokers’ responses and the original letters can be found here.
Interestingly, several of the brokers acknowledged obtaining their data from social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, in addition to telephone directories, government agencies, and financial institutions.
The legislators issued a joint statement in which they noted shortcomings in the brokers’ answers, stating that “many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers.”
Members of Congress have indicated that they will continue to scrutinize the data brokerage industry. Issues of particular concern for the legislators include: the sale of personal information to third parties for targeted advertising, the gathering and selling of information relating to children and teenagers, and the lack of transparency in data brokers’ practices and available information. The Privacy Caucus has expressed concern that many Americans do not know how the industry operates and that controls may be lacking for individuals over their own information.
The FTC has already called on Congress to address data brokers’ practices through legislation. In March, the FTC advocated for legislation to “address the invisibility of, and consumers’ lack of control over, data brokers’ collection and use of consumer information.” We anticipate continued review of data brokers by Congress and federal agencies including the FTC. Companies in the data compilation business should continue to monitor ongoing proceedings.
It should be noted, however, that not all companies that gather personal information actually “broker” it in a manner that raises concern. Some companies compile information and remove identifying data before providing it to third parties; other companies gather information under contract for a business with whom a consumer has an existing business relationship – as a means to promote better customer service by tailoring offerings that will be of interest to consumers generally or to a particular consumer. Many consumers have indicated a willingness to receive these types of tailored offerings.