On Tuesday the, Federal Trade Commission released their long awaited report on the data broker industry.  The report greatly expands on the findings of an earlier report by the Senate Commerce Committee and takes a hard look at the various policy implications of the industry and recommendations for crafting future regulations.  The FTC’s report delves into the mechanics of data collection, how the data is sorted, and the real world implications of how a company’s selective use of data might impact consumers over the course of years.  For instance, the FTC points out that a motorcycle enthusiast might have their data used as a way to get discounts and news about bike products, but the same data might be used to increase their insurance premiums.

Yet the report didn’t uncover anything necessarily illegal, instead it found an industry that is quietly, but fundamentally, impacting the lives of American consumers in profound ways.  The Commission recommended that Congress create legislative protections for consumers such as:

  • A centralized system where consumers can opt out of some forms of collection
  • Requirements that data brokers provide consumers access to the data collected on them
  • Notice from consumer-facing web sites about what data is being collected and who it might be shared with
  • Greater protections for sensitive, personal identifiable data
  • Create ways for consumers to correct their data

So what now?  With Congressional legislative days quickly winding down, the chances for legislative action this year are very slim.  Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller set out an ambitious goal last year of crafting data broker legislation before he retires at the end of this Congress.  In the House, former Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton has been a consistent advocate for regulation of the data broker industry, but outside of an ongoing bipartisan working group of the E&C Committee, there has been little energy behind any comprehensive effort.  This year seems more likely to produce messages about data brokers than legislation.  However, this year’s message bills could easily become next year’s legislation as the public becomes more aware of how the collection and dissemination of their personal data impacts their lives.