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Congress

Senate Commerce Probes Data Brokers

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller(Richard A. Bloom)

Updated: 2:50 p.m.

The Senate Commerce Committee is opening a probe into the data broker industry and is seeking more information about what data these companies collect and how they do it.

Data brokers collect and sell information about consumers to third parties. The committee wrote nine companies including information provider Reed Elsevier and the three major credit reporting firms Experian, Equifax and Transunion. The data broker industry has come under scrutiny in recent years by the Federal Trade Commission, which has criticized the industry for not doing enough to regulate itself, and for a series of data breaches, which have resulted in the loss of consumer data, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. said in the letters.

"Collecting, storing and selling information about Americans raises all types of questions that require careful scrutiny," Rockefeller said in a statement. "While these practices may offer some benefits to consumers, they deserve to know what's being collected about them and how companies profit from their information."

The panel is seeking a long list of information from the companies by Nov. 2, including the methods and mechanisms the companies use to collect data from consumers, the type of information collected, what products or services that data is used for, and who bought or used those services and products.

The Senate Commerce probe follows a similar investigation of data brokers launched this summer by a bipartisan group of House members led by Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Linda Woolley, acting president and CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, described the Senate Commerce probe as a "fishing expedition." She added, "There is no evidence whatsoever of any harm to consumers, In fact, consumers love getting what they want -- information, products, benefits, upgrades -- when they want it. Direct marketing is 9.8 percent of U.S. GDP. I hope Sen. Rockefeller knows what he's doing when he tampers with this for no reason."

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