Report: Data Brokers Collect Invasive Information About Your Life
The Federal Trade Commission is calling for a greater degree of transparency and accountability in its 110-page report entitled, “Data Brokers.”
The kinds of information collected, the depth of this data and how it’s being used – largely without consumers’ knowledge – is cause for alarm, the commission asserts. Miami consumer rights attorneys understand that the information includes things like your financial situation, your relationship status, your hobbies, your career, whether you have a dog, whether you smoke, whether you have allergies (or some other illness), whether you have children and how many and whether you’re a Justin Bieber fan – or not.
Virtually every American is tracked, but for the most part, you would have no idea this information is being culled or by whom or for what purposes.The FTC says it’s time to change that.
Collecting this information has become a multi-billion dollar industry.
These kinds of commercial surveillance largely draw from sources such as government records, social media posts and pictures, shopping habits and more. They might follow your online purchases or track your buying history from grocery store loyalty programs. Individual companies sell this information to marketers.
Mostly, it’s for purposes of advertising. People are plopped into categories, such as “Affluent Baby Boomer” or “Biker/Hell’s Angel’s” or “Bible Lifestyle.” There is a category called “Urban Scramble,” used to describe minority populations with low incomes. One firm even had a category that kept tabs on buyers of Elvis novelty items.
Sometimes, however, the information is sold to banks, which then use this information to verify the identity of customers, and may even use it to weight a person’s creditworthiness or set interest rates for certain purchases. There may even be situations wherein it’s used to make or deny job offers.
The fact that consumers typically know nothing about it means they can’t actively counter any potential negative affect the spread of this information may be having – particularly if there is incorrect information being disseminated.
FTC Chairman Edith Ramirez noted the extent of consumer profiling for many leads to situations where companies may know more about us than our family and friends. Concerned about potential abuses of this information, the agency subpoenaed nine different data broker firms in late 2012. It was based on the information culled there that the commission based its reports.
While there is no evidence of blatantly illegal activity, the agency said there was a distinct lack of transparency that was concerning. Troubling too is the fact that we don’t know how many data brokers are currently operational, which means there is more we don’t know about their motivations.
What seems apparent is that this information can and is being used to the disadvantage of some. For example, a person who is labeled by a data brokerage firm as being “financially challenged” is far more likely to be targeted by subprime loan advertisements. That same person might face a long wait time when filing a customer service complaint, while a more affluent consumer would be catered too with a faster response.
Brokers, meanwhile, say the fact that no blatant abuses or illegal activity should ease the public’s fears, and allow firms to continue with self-regulation.
Still, the FTC is pressing forward with recommendations to require the establishment of a resource wherein consumers could access their own profile, determine what information about them is being collected and have the opportunity to correct any information that is false or misleading.
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