Lawmakers target data brokers in privacy bill

Four senators resurrect a bill that would allow consumers to see and correct personal information held by data brokers

Four U.S. senators have resurrected legislation that would allow consumers to see and correct personal information held by data brokers and tell those businesses to stop sharing or selling it for marketing purposes.

The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act, introduced by four Democratic senators Thursday, also would require the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to craft rules for a centralized website for consumers to view a list of data brokers covered by the bill.

Data brokers collect personal information about consumers, often without their knowledge, and resell it to other businesses.

The bill is needed because data brokers are a "shadow industry of surreptitious data collection that has amassed covert dossiers on hundreds of millions of Americans," Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. "Data brokers seem to believe that there is no such thing as privacy."

Other sponsors of the bill are Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Shelden Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota. The new version of the DATA Act is similar to a 2014 bill co-sponsored by Markey that failed to pass in the Senate.

Blumenthal, in a statement, called data brokers "insidious, invisible threats" to privacy on the Internet.

The legislation isn't needed, countered the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group representing data brokers and other companies using data-collection services. Three 2014 investigations of the data-broker industry, by the FTC, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, found little evidence of wrongdoing in the industry, said Rachel Thomas, the DMA's vice president of government affairs.

Data brokers are continually taking steps on their own to improve transparency to consumers, she said. "That kind of transparency is happening every day, in terms of self-regulation in the marketplace," she said.

Critics of data brokers often fail to define specific problems, Thomas added. "When you talk about insidious threats or wrongdoing by a particular company, there isn't a real clear understanding of who's being pointed to there," she said. "There's not a business in American that's not dependent on the responsible flows of data about consumers."

The senators introduced the bill just days after President Barack Obama's administration offered a proposal for a consumer privacy bill of rights. Several privacy groups have criticized the Obama administration plan, saying it provides weak privacy protections and does little to rein in data broker practices.

Last May, the FTC called on Congress to consider legislation that limits the ways data brokers can use personal information.

The data-broker industry "largely operates in the dark," with most U.S. consumers unaware that companies are collecting data about consumers' place of residence, interests, children, health conditions and income, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said then.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. SenateU.S. Federal Trade Commissione-commerceShelden WhitehouseEdith RamirezlegislationBarack ObamainternetprivacyDirect Marketing AssociationanalyticsEdward MarkeysecurityRichard BlumenthalgovernmentRachel Thomas

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?