Big Data Brokers Facing Big Problems

big data

On May 27, the Federal Trade Commission published a report that highlights the amount of personal information harvested by data brokers. The FTC looked at nine of the top names in the big data business — Acxiom, CoreLogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, PeekYou, Rapleaf and Recorded Future –- and exposed plenty of common practices that are hidden from the average consumer’s view.

In fact, the FTC acknowledged that in terms of transparency and accountability, “little progress” has been made – and consumers are not protected.

The numbers make it easy to understand – if tough to digest.  Check out what just one of these nine data brokers adds or touches on a monthly basis:

            -1.4 billion consumer transaction records

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            -700 billion data elements

            -3 billion new data points added to the database

Everything from your online shopping habits to your publicly posted political views can be directly mined by data brokers or sold to other brokers for the right price. But data brokers then make that money back – and then some – by selling information to marketers.

And what if that information the harvesters collected isn’t accurate? What if that inaccurate information is used against you, whether you’re applying for a job or a home loan? The point is that no one knows how this information is being used to construct – or constrain – your choices – because the brokers haven’t really been regulated.

One bright spot?  According to an Accenture survey published on May 28, consumers are becoming more aware that their privacy is at risk:

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– “80 percent of consumers aged 20-40 in the United States and United Kingdom believe total privacy in the digital world is a thing of the past”

– “87 percent believe adequate safeguards are not in place to protect their personal information.”

But while those stats point to an increase in awareness, others reported in the Accenture survey suggest a more lackadaisical attitude when it comes to caring about the implications of data mining.

– “49 percent said they would not object to having their buying behavior tracked if it would result in relevant offers from brands and suppliers.”

-“Sixty-four percent – compared to 85 percent from the 2012 survey – are concerned about websites tracking their buying behavior.”

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So while awareness is up, the decrease in concern is, well, concerning. However, the FTC report indicates that transparency requirements are coming for data brokers – so consumers like us can understand common practices and even submit opt-out requests.   

That will be a great – if long overdue – day for us all.

Are you concerned about data collection infringing on your right to privacy? What do you think should be done about it in the wake of the FTC’s new report?

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