Tags: Data | collectors | FTC | consumers

ProPublica: Data Collectors Know What You Had for Dinner

By    |   Tuesday, 19 March 2013 10:58 AM

Consumer data companies are collecting and selling personal details about the lives of millions of Americans, ranging from their pregnancies and paystubs to their weight losses or gains, according to investigative journalism project ProPublica.

Government regulators have taken a look at the extent of the vast trove of marketing data collection on U.S. individuals, but with little action so far.

ProPublica said some of the information is purchased from government sources such as state Departments of Motor Vehicles and from public voting records.

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But much of the rest is sold by businesses that range widely, from Walt Disney to Restoration Hardware, ProPublica said.

Consumer data firm Acxiom acknowledged it has information on 500 million people worldwide, including “nearly every U.S. consumer,” ProPublica reported. After the 9/11 attacks, CNN said Acxiom located 11 of the 19 hijackers in its database.

Credit reporting firm Experian has a marketing division that sells lists of “names of expectant parents and families with newborns,” ProPublica said.

NBC News reported recently another credit reporting firm, Equifax, collects detailed salary and payroll information on about 38 percent of employed Americans.

Most of the information is used to sell products and services to Americans. Companies want to buy lists of people who may be interested in what they are selling — and they also want to know more about their current customers.

The information extends to American’s online behavior, ProPublica noted. Datalogix, which collects information from store loyalty cards, acknowledges it has information on more than $1 trillion in consumer spending across more than 1,400 leading brands.

Datalogix has partnered with Facebook to track whether Facebook users who see ads for certain products end up buying them in local stores, the Financial Times reported.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended recently that data brokers create a centralized website that would make it easier for consumers to learn about the data collection and their rights.

While some data brokers offer consumers a chance to “opt out” of being included in their databases, most consumers do not know who the brokers are, ProPublica said.

The FTC recommended last year that Congress pass legislation to provide consumers access to the files collected on them by the data companies. President Barack Obama has also proposed a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

In the meantime, some data companies are resisting those kinds of efforts.

Even if there are errors in an American’s data profile, “the worst thing that could happen is that you get an advertising offer that isn’t relevant to you,” said Rachel Thomas, vice president of consumer affairs for the Direct Marketing Association.

“The fraud and security risks that you run by opening up those files is higher than any potential harm that could happen to the consumer,” Thomas told ProPublica.

The FTC recently asked nine data brokers for more information on what data they are collecting and what they do with it, according to AdAge.

The request could be the prelude to the sort of legal restrictions the online ad industry is trying to prevent through its own self-regulatory efforts, run by bodies like the Network Advertising Initiative and Digital Advertising Alliance.

The European Commission is devising a consumer data protection plan, in part known as “The Right to Be Forgotten,” that proposes to guarantee erasure of consumer data in a manner that aims to put more privacy power back in the hands of consumers, Forbes reported.

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Consumer data companies are collecting and selling personal details about the lives of millions of Americans, ranging from their pregnancies and paystubs to their weight losses or gains, according to investigative journalism project ProPublica.
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2013-58-19
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 10:58 AM
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