In this new age of government snooping, it's easy to forget that companies are tracking what you do as a consumer and compiling databases for marketing purposes.
Even more disturbing is that these databases can be sold to just about anybody, and who knows what happens from there? Is it farfetched to think that people are using these marketing databases for nefarious purposes? What is pretty clear is that at the very least some ethical lines are being crossed. At worst? Outright law breaking.
A new government report from the Senate Committee on the Data Brokering Industry shows that the data brokering industry has swelled to over 150 billion dollars a year and there are very little guarantees that your data isn’t being sold to any number of criminals: ranging from predatory lenders, to various types of fraudsters. Apparently there are no checks and balances on whether a person’s information is being used for legitimate purposes.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) has released his own separate report based on an investigation into the collection and sale of consumer data which says allowing companies to self regulate on the matter will only lead to more abuses. According to Rockefeller “Its the dark underside of American life.”
Rockefeller is concerned with the way companies classify and segment in an effort to streamline the process of targeting consumers. While there is nothing overtly criminal about it, Rockefeller seems to be of the mind that at the very least there is something unethical about the process that in the end stigmatizes customers by defining their economic status. .
Even more disturbing are the kinds of databases they are developing. For example, if you wanted a list of child molesters, no problem. A list of people who forfeited on their mortgage? Sure. And now it seems that companies like Facebook are helping these data collectors.
Perhaps the most alarming thing about this is when the government asked some of these various data brokers to fork over their lists, they flatly refused. A move that certainly does not engender trust. If they had nothing to hide then clearly there would be at least a modicum of cooperation. Rockefeller cites this “Veil of secrecy” as one of the primary reasons the federal government must continue to monitor and develop way of dealing with uncooperative corporate entities. On the other hand Rockefeller’s report did not make any specific legislative recommendations so its clear that we have a long way to go before the problem is addressed in any tangible manner.
Overall there’s seems to be a bi-partisan consensus that the field of data collection needs new regulatory laws that restrict actions and set standards for the organization engages in the sale of consumer data. It’s clear that in this day and age of digital malfeasance people need to protect their information now more than ever.