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Lawmakers Seek Data Broker Information Practices

Several House lawmakers have sent letters to nine major data broker firms, seeking transparency on data practices.

By Alice Cheng

Last week, eight House members, including Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus chairmen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), sent letters to nine major data broker firms, asking for information on how they collect, assemble, maintain, and sell consumer information to third parties.

The letter references a recent New York Times article profiling data broker Acxiom, which may have spurred the lawmakers’ decision to target the firms. Data brokers are large firms that aggregate information about hundreds of millions of consumers, selling them to third parties for marketing, advertising, and other purposes.  Oftentimes, profiles of consumers are created to reflect spending habits, political affiliation, and other behavioral information. As the article explains, the issue with these activities is that they are largely unregulated, largely unknown to the general public, and are often be difficult to opt out of.

Privacy advocates, lawmakers, and often the Federal Trade Commission have made continued moves towards increased transparency of the activities of data brokers. A statement explains that, in sending the letter to the nine firms, the lawmakers in the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus seek to obtain information on the brokers relating to  “privacy, transparency and consumer notification, including as they relate to children and teens.”