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House Lawmakers Want More Info From Data Brokers House Lawmakers Want More Info From Data Brokers

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House Lawmakers Want More Info From Data Brokers


Ed Markey (D-MA) speaking with Ron Brownstein at Columbus Club June 23, 2009.(Liz Lynch)

A bipartisan group of House members said on Thursday they are not satisfied with responses they got from nine data brokers, saying the industry needs to be more open about how it uses personal information collected about consumers.

Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, and five other lawmakers wrote nine data brokers last summer seeking more information about where they collect data, what type of data is collected, who buys the data, and how it is used.

The lawmakers said in a statement that only one company, Acxiom, described itself as a data broker. In its response to the lawmakers, Equifax, which is more well known as one of the three national credit reporting agencies, rejected the data broker label and instead said it offers "marketing services," which it noted only make up 1 percent of its business.

Acxiom also was the only company that provided details on how many consumers asked to access data about themselves. Several others said they do not allow consumers to access their data because it is not personally identifiable. Acxion said in the last two years as few as 77 people each year out of the 190 million consumers it has information on asked to see their data.

The companies did provide a few details on how they collect data about consumers. Their sources include consumers themselves, telephone directories, mobile phones, government agencies, financial institutions, and social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

"Many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers," the lawmakers said in a statement. "This and other practices could affect the lives of nearly all Americans, including children and teens. We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans' information."

The lawmakers added that they would continue to press for more information about the industry and for consumers to have more control over their own information.

They are not alone in calling on data brokers to be more transparent about their activities. Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill has been vocal in calling on data brokers to provide consumers more information about the industry. Brill has been mentioned as a possible choice to succeed FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz if he steps down as expected.

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