Do data brokers know more about you than your own mother?
The Federal Trade Commission thinks they might, and the agency released a report Tuesday urging Congress to push for more transparency and accountability for the companies that harvest and sell consumer information.
“The extent of consumer profiling today means that data brokers often know as much — or even more — about us than our family and friends, including our online and in-store purchases, our political and religious affiliations, our income and socioeconomic status, and more,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement Tuesday.
Data brokers are companies that aggregate information from a vast range of online and off-line sources, such as social media and retailers, to compile and sell consumer profiles to marketers and others for various purposes, from personally tailored advertisements to fraud prevention.
The FTC research found that data brokers are collecting troves of personal information about “nearly every U.S. consumer,” largely with a “fundamental lack of transparency,” and that the information could be used in ways that are damaging to consumers.
Among the federal agency’s recommendations is the creation of a “centralized portal,” a one-stop shop for consumers to access information about data brokers’ data-collection practices, as well as tools to access their data profiles.
The FTC’s investigation into nine of the major data-broker companies, launched in 2012, found that these companies are analyzing billions of data points to make inferences about customers, from the benign, like “Dog Owner,” to the potentially damaging categories that highlight sensitive health, age, or socioeconomic information, according to the report.
The risk is that companies could use this data to target vulnerable customers or offer varying prices. For example, someone identified as a “Diabetes Interest” could receive ads for sugar-free products, but an insurance company could use that same data to classify such a person as high-risk, according to Ramirez.
“Does it mean many among us will be cut off from being offered the same goods and services, at the same prices, as our neighbors?” Ramirez asked in a statement Tuesday. “Will these classifications mean that some consumers will only be shown advertisements for subprime loans while others will see ads for credit cards?”
The data-brokerage industry dates back to mail-order catalogs in the 1950s, but the industry has transformed in the digital age. As consumers’ conduct more and more of their lives online, data brokers have an unprecedented amount of information at their fingertips, along with the powerful technology to analyze this information and piece it together like never before.
With the exception of a few industry-specific rules to safeguard sensitive financial data, health data, and data about children, the industry is unregulated. That is why the FTC is calling on Congress to enact legislation that would increase transparency in the industry and give consumers more control over the data collected about them.
The FTC’s report follows another on the data-broker industry released earlier this year by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, which raised similar concerns about the secrecy of the industry and the risks it poses to consumers. Rockefeller also introduced legislation, with Sen. Edward Markey, that would enact transparency requirements on data brokers and allow consumers to correct their information.
Rockefeller and Markey both praised the FTC’s report, saying that it underscores the need for legislations.
“With the release of today’s report, which is supported by Democratic and Republican FTC Commissioners, our conclusion is stronger than ever — big data practices pose risks of consumer harm including discrimination based on financial, health, and other personal information,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “Congress can no longer put off action on this important issue.”
- 1 Hillary Clinton Will Win the Nomination, But Then What?
- 2 Bernie Sanders Is a Loud, Stubborn Socialist. Republicans Like Him Anyway.
- 3 Why Gun Control Can’t Eliminate Gun Violence
- 4 Few Privacy Limitations Exist on How Police Use Drones
- 5 How Politics Breaks Our Brains, and How We Can Put Them Back Together
What We're Following See More »
Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”