Data brokers are reeling after FTC Commissioner Julie Brill voiced her support for a "Reclaim Your Name" program that would allow consumers access to the information stored about them, the ability to control how such data is shared, and the power to make corrections.
Speaking at a privacy conference in Washington, D.C., Brill said big data brokers are "taking advantage of us without our permission" and suggested that the program could operate together with the still-developing Do Not Track initiative. Together, these policies will "restore consumers' rights to privacy that big data has not just challenged but has abrogated in too many instances," Brill said.
Noting that "progress" toward a DNT program has been made (including the Digital Advertising Alliance's About Ads Program), Brill urged the World Wide Web Consortium working group "to forge ahead with their work and reach consensus" on a universal DNT standard.
If consensus is reached, Do Not Track would allow consumers to choose when their online data is monitored for marketing purposes. Reclaim Your Name would give consumers the power to access online and offline data already collected, exercise some choice over how their data will be used in the commercial sphere, and correct any errors in information being used by those making decisions materially impacting consumers' lives – such as credit, insurance, employment, and other benefits.
Brill also voiced support for legislation that would incorporate privacy-by-design principles that would require data brokers to "provide notice, access, and correction rights to consumers scaled to the sensitivity and use of the data at issue . . . for example, Congress should require data brokers to give consumers the ability to access their information and correct it when it is used for eligibility determinations, and the ability to opt-out of information used for marketing."
Data brokers participating in the program would "agree to tailor their data handling and notice and choice tools to the sensitivity of the information at issue," Brill suggested. "As the data they handle or create becomes more sensitive – relating to health conditions, sexual orientation, and financial condition – the data brokers would provide greater transparency and more robust notice and choice to consumers."
Brill noted that "big data is not synonymous with the evil empire," but listed four challenges posed by the vast digital dossiers kept on consumers. They include the enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (which already prescribes limits on data sharing in certain scenarios), the need for greater transparency (as most consumers have no idea who is engaged in big data predictive analysis), the need for better consumer notice procedures and a clear delineation of the consumer right of choice, and de-identification of consumers whose data has been collected.
To read the text of Commissioner Brill's speech, click here.
Why it matters: Although the topic of "big data" is timely, Brill's announcement caught the advertising industry off-guard. Rachel Thomas, vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, told AdAge the group was taken aback by the speech. "DMA has been in discussion with Commissioner Brill regarding ways to increase transparency in the 'data broker' industry, but was surprised to see her announcement of the new initiative," Thomas said, adding that the FTC's investigation of data brokers is still ongoing "and the Commission has yet to articulate a specific problem that would justify a call for congressional action in this area."