The Federal Trade Commission released a report urging Congress to require data brokers to be more transparent. Data brokers collect information on nearly all U.S consumers, typically without their knowledge, and create profiles based on online purchases, public records, and online tracking cookies. The FTC recommends creating one Internet site where each company explains their purpose and method of data collection and gives consumers a chance to opt out.
Utilities, universities, government agencies, private investigators, financial firms, and tech, telecoms and pharmaceuticals purchase consumer profiles from these data brokers. Data brokers usually share this data for marketing or antifraud purposes.
The report did not identify that any of the data brokers’ methods were illegal. These companies have access to a lot of personal information such as a person’s name, address, location, contact info, social security number, birth date, and demographic and financial data. Also, electronic data about a person’s online activity gives data brokers even more information about apparel preferences, political leanings, and other lifestyle matters.
Quartz reports that data brokers know whether consumers are “affluent baby boomers,” “thrifty elders,” or whether they have an “ailment and prescription online search propensity.”
“We can now say definitively that data brokers are getting the information about us from the things we buy on a debit or credit card — no loyalty program is required,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, to The Wall Street Journal.
The FTC recommended creating one website where consumers could opt out of data collection. Currently, six of the nine companies in the report allow consumers to opt out on their individual websites, but because data brokering companies extensively share information, opting out from one company is not enough.