Back in June, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill unveiled an initiative called, “Reclaim Your Name” at the Computer Freedom and Privacy Conference. Her proposed initiative is directed to the big data industry and calls on data brokers to give consumers more control over their personal data. According to Commissioner Brill, Reclaim Your Name would “empower the consumer to find out how brokers are collecting and using data; give her access to information that data brokers have amassed about her; allow her to opt-out if she learns a data broker is selling her information for marketing purposes; and provide her the opportunity to correct errors in information used for substantive decisions – like credit, insurance, employment, and other benefits.”
Commissioner Brill followed up her remarks at the Conference with an op-ed piece in the Washington Post earlier this month, again demanding transparency from data brokers. In her op-ed, Commissioner Brill likened the efforts of data brokers who collect data on surfing habits and app usage to the type of information the NSA was collecting. She also opined that “personal data could be — and probably are — used by firms making decisions that aren’t regulated by the FCRA but still affect users' lives profoundly” and that these decisions include whether consumers are too risky to do business with or aren’t right for certain clubs, dating services, schools or other programs.
One industry participant, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), disagreed strongly with Commissioner Brill’s op-ed and took her to task in a letter. That letter, signed by DMA CEO Linda Woolley said that the op-ed ignores the “social benefits” resulting from big data and that it “demonizes” data-driven marketers by wrongly comparing it with the NSA. Woolley pointed out that the use of consumer information for commercial purpose is governed by laws distinct from surveillance issues. She said that, “[c]onfusing issues of national security and responsible marketing paints an alarmist picture of supposed threats that the collection of marketing data poses to consumers.” Woolley also said that Reclaim Your Name focuses on speculative harms and ignores the benefits of “customization and personalization of Internet experiences through the commercial use of data.”
While Commissioner Brill’s statements are informative, the FTC has not formally adopted her Reclaim Your Name initiative. Any industry-based solution will need to consider the benefits of increased consumer notice and choice, as well as the benefits that responsible data-driven marketing can provide to consumers.