Yesterday, during a Senate commerce committee meeting about data brokers—which make $156 billion tracking and selling your personal information—Senator Jay Rockefeller released the damning results of a year-long investigation. "I think it's a dark underside of American life, in which people make a lot of money and cause people to suffer even more."
The report looked into nine companies, including Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon. Facebook entered into a partnership with those three companies in April to build a new advertising tool that married "what Facebook already knows about people's friends and 'likes' with vast troves of information from third-party data marketers." In September, Acxiom rolled out a new product that knew who you were on the web even if you used a different name. Another data broker examined as part of the report was Rapleaf, a reviled company that's still in business.
Consumer data companies are selling lists of rape victims, seniors with dementia and even those suffering from HIV and AIDS to marketers, underscoring the need for tighter government regulations, a privacy group told Congress Wednesday.
According the report, the tight-lippedness from Acxiom and several other firms questioned only contributes to the aura of mystery surrounding the online data trade. The Senate commerce committee, chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, finds the industry's secretive nature troublesome not only because it's invasive and well, generally sketchy, but also because there's no check on whether people's marketing profiles are being used legitimately. In other words, consumers are at risk of being exploited. Rockefeller wants to make sure our data isn't being used for things like employment screening and discriminatory pricing, or being sold to fraudsters and predators. In fact, the report revealed that the large data broker firm Experian has had probable criminals as customers.