Third party data collection is a scary topic, and though you might know what it is and various means to minimize its effects it seems like there is no legal way to stop it. Under current U.S. laws consumers have no right to know which data brokers have their data and what data they have. Some laws and agencies exist that could regulate some behavior, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but only if companies fail to follow their privacy policies or use fraudulent data collection practices. Is there any reprieve for consumers suffering from run-of-the-mill invasive data collection? Three bills and efforts in the past five years seek to resolve these issues in favor of consumers.
“Reclaim Your Name”
At a privacy conference in June of 2013, FTC Commissioner Julie Brown called for an initiative she named “Reclaim Your Name.” The program would make data brokers accountable to consumers by providing a user-friendly online portal where consumers could edit and update their information. This program mirrors the Do Not Call Registry available for consumers to avoid telemarketers. The program is a follow up to the “Do Not Track” option implemented in most browsers. This option allows consumers to opt out of tracking by some third parties who have agreed to the initiative. This program would greatly help consumers manage their data, but has not gained much traction by itself since 2013.
“Consumer Bill of Rights”
In 2012 the White House first introduced the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, draft legislation that would give consumers more control over their data. The Bill was reintroduced in 2015. The Bill contains broad definitions for personal data and entities covered by the bill. The Bill requires covered entities to give notice to consumers about what data they use and how they use it, and requires covered entities to give consumers options to edit their data for accuracy. The Bill still has flaws, namely weak enforcement fines that are calculated by the number of days during which a violation occurs rather than number of violations. It is still a step forward and brings consumer choice issues to the forefront of legislation.
Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act
In February of 2015 two democratic senators introduced the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act to the Senate. This bill would require data brokers to establish procedures to ensure accuracy of personal information and to provide cost free means for individuals to review their data. It would also require data brokers to provide individuals with reasonable means to exclude their information from being used by marketers. There are still many ambiguous definitions in the bill, and many sections aren’t clear in how those provisions should be enforced. The bill was sent to committee in 2014 and forgotten, and met a similar fate in 2015.
While there are many legislative initiatives to bring consumer choice back to consumers, many of these bills are gridlocked in a partisan Congress, and are unlikely to become law soon. Consumers must remain vigilant about how their data is used on the Internet.