Led by Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Congress’s Privacy Caucus instructed nine alleged “data broker” companies to reveal their practices and released their findings to the public on 11/8/12. The nine companies contacted, including Acxiom, Epsilon (Alliance Data Systems), Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Merkle, and Meredith Corp., responded to lawmaker questions about policies and practices related to privacy, transparency and consumer notification. While far from completely detailing all of their practices, each responded with information on where and how they mine information about public citizens. Epsilon for example, uses records from utility companies, magazine publishers, and public property records to trace a person’s movement across the country. Intelius claimed they helped people “reconnect with their friends and relatives” by mining data from LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter, WordPress, MySpace and YouTube. Experian stressed they abide by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act but admitted that they “scan census information for the presence of 13-17-year-olds to market to their parents.” All but one rejected the title of “data broker”. Several of the companies indicated they do not allow an individual access to their own data stating that the information is not easily identifiable.
Congress reacted and issued a joint statement:
“The data brokers’ responses offer only a glimpse of the practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for years. Many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers. This and other practices could affect the lives of nearly all Americans, including children and teens. We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans’ information. 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.”
Below is an example of one response from the company Acxiom. Read past the self-marketing promo at the beginning to get to the actual responses to Congress’s query.