On September 25, 2013, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, expanded his investigation of the data broker industry by asking twelve popular health and personal finance websites to answer questions about their data collection and sharing practices.

In letters to the companies, Senator Rockefeller requested detailed information about the websites’ privacy practices, including:

  • whether the company collects health, family, financial or other information from consumers, and whether that information is linked to personally identifiable information;
  • whether the company shares such information with third parties, and, if so, what prohibitions or limitations the company imposes regarding further disclosure, sale or use of the information; and
  • whether the company allows third parties to directly collect personally identifiable information about consumers through its website.

The letters ask the companies to provide responses by October 11, 2013.

In October 2012, Senator Rockefeller sent requests to nine data brokers companies seeking information about their collection, use and sharing practices. The letters he sent out this week state that one preliminary finding of his previous inquiry is that websites that gather information directly from consumers may be a source of consumer information for data brokers.

Senator Rockefeller’s investigation is part of a series of federal government inquiries focused on data brokers. In May 2013, the Federal Trade Commission issued letters warning ten data broker companies that their practices could violate prohibitions against selling consumer information under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In addition, in December 2012, the FTC issued Orders to nine data brokerage companies seeking information about how the companies collect and use personal data about consumers; and in July 2012, members of the House Privacy Caucus, led by Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Edward Markey (D-MA), sent letters to nine companies requesting similar information. The inquiries have been described as attempts to better understand the role of data brokers with respect to consumer privacy.