OPA Intelligence Reports

Posted in News on 04/09/2012 By Mark Glaser & Desiree Everts

FTC privacy report targets data brokers

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called for increased online privacy and noted its progress with the development of a “Do Not Track” tool. Now the agency is stepping up those efforts even more, with a report that essentially says privacy should come first. “‘Do Not Track’ from our perspective means do not collect,” Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said at a Washington press conference, according to PBS MediaShift’s Terri Thornton. “We need to have a ‘Do Not Track’ option that is persistent, easy to use and effective.” paidContent’s Jeff John Roberts believes the most significant part of the report is the agency’s new focus on so-called data brokers that gather data about consumers via shopping purchases, property records, and court documents and sell it to third parties. “Data companies mentioned in the report, like Choicepoint or LexisNexis, are not household names like Apple and other tech firms that have been at the center of media storms over privacy. But in many cases, the data companies control a far deeper pool of information,” Roberts explained.

The FTC has called on Congress to pass a law that would regulate these data brokers. “If companies adopt our final recommendations for best practices – and many of them already have – they will be able to innovate and deliver creative new services that consumers can enjoy without sacrificing their privacy,” Leibowitz said in a statement. But some believe that rather than focusing on the companies, we need to look towards providing consumers with the tools to help themselves. “As it tackles consumer data privacy, the FTC needs to think less about limiting what companies can do, and more about empowering consumers themselves,” wrote InformationWeek’s Thomas Claburn. “What we need is a right to self-help. Rather than attempting to legislate privacy, a term that means different things to different people, the FTC should require that companies disclose their information-collection practices and provide consumers with the ability to deny such collection. We need transparency combined with optional opacity.”