The “big data” issue is complex with many components.  It’s important to focus on some of the specific issues that are not as transparent to consumers.  One of those issues is the role data brokers play. Consumer and privacy advocacy groups as well as the Federal Trade Commission have been, and continue to be, focusing on that industry (see, “FTC to Study Data Broker Industry’s Collection and Use of Consumer Data”; December 18, 2012).

This was one of the main points Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill made in her June 26th keynote address at the 23rd Computers Freedom and Privacy Conference (CFP Conference).  I didn’t attend the CFP Conference but have read her full address (www.ftc.gov) as well as Antone Gonsalves informative article about her keynote (www.csoonline.com; “FTC’s ‘Reclaim Your Name’ alone won’t rein in data brokers, experts say”; June 28).

Commissioner Brill highlighted that the number of credit reporting agencies and data brokers makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to know who’s collecting their information.  That complexity means most consumers lack the ability to access and correct most of the data dossiers being maintained on them.  Her data broker proposal is called “Reclaim Your Name”.  While still very much in the discussion phase, the basic outline would be: a voluntary program under which data brokers would give consumers access to the data being collected on them; the chance to make needed corrections; and the ability to opt-out of having their personal information used for marketing.  As noted in Mr. Gonsalves article, privacy advocates see Commissioner Brill’s proposal as a positive step but one that will not address all of their concerns about data brokers and their use of consumer information.

Within a few months, consumers will be able to access information being held about them by Acxiom, the biggest data broker.  Adam Tanner wrote about Acxiom’s June 25th announcement and described the breathtaking range and depth of information Acxiom holds. (www.forbes.com; “Finally You’ll Get to See the Secret Consumer Dossier They Have On You”; June 25).  As he details, Acxiom has profiles on 700 million individuals and information on close to 1 billion online users.  Acxiom’s new access process is still being formulated; hopefully it will eliminate some of the onerous requirements that have deterred consumers from trying to access their dossiers.  The only certainty is that Acxiom is eliminating the current $5.00 fee.

How else will consumers gain more control of their data?  Through “Do Not Track” tools that  allow consumers to decide where, how and by whom they will or won’t be tracked on the Internet.  The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is tackling this problem by trying to come up with a universal “Do Not Track” standard.  I attended Consumer Action’s June 27th “Do Not Track” conference where I heard updates about the W3C progress and related issues.  That conference and the W3C efforts will be the focus of one of my blogs next week.