Lawmakers Say Data from 'Data Brokers' Is Incomplete

Reps. Call it a Shadowy World, Without Enough Light Shed on It

A bipartisan group of House members has released the responses from nine data brokers about their handling of personal information and their conclusion is that the answers were incomplete, provided only a "glimpse" into a still-shadowy world, and that there were many questions left unanswered.

One question that wasn't unanswered was just how pervasive data collection is. Only one company provided figures, but that was a doozy: 190 million consumers.

"We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans’ information," said the legislators, which included Privacy Caucus co-chairs Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.). "Until then, we will continue our efforts to learn more about this industry and will push for whatever steps are necessary to make sure Americans know how this industry operates and are granted control over their own information.”

Among the conclusions the legislators drew from the response letters was that, with the exception of Axciom, none wanted to be identified as data brokers, preferring "data provider" or "analyzer."

Acxiom was also the only company to provide details on the number of consumers who asked to access its information, which turned out to be as few as 77 out of the 190 million consumers it has collected info on.

Among the other answers the legislators found noteworthy:

In addition to collecting data from telephone directories, mobile phones and government agencies, they companies were also mining social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn; the companies provided "little information" about the distinction between the information they collect (somebody is female), from information they create by analyzing and profiling, e.g. "youn female interested in weight loss setn coupon for diet pill."

The companies contacted were Acxiom, Epsilon (Alliance Data Systems), Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Merkle, and Meredith. To check out all their responses, click here.