Who’s tracking you online? Senate Dems want answers

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US:Four Senate Democrats want new rules for advertising companies that track where people go online.

The lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would allow people to get access to and control the files that the companies — known as ”data brokers” — keep on them.

“Data brokers seem to believe that there is no such thing as privacy,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “We need to shed light on this ‘shadow’ industry of surreptitious data collection that has amassed covert dossiers on hundreds of millions of Americans.”

The somewhat murky world of data brokers has only recently begun to come to light for many Americans, while their ability to gather information about how people live their lives has increased as more and more activities move online.

Little-known firms like Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon can rake in profits by tracking how people spend money, interact on social media and fill out surveys to compile profiles about them to use for advertising. Much of the data is compiled from publicly available documents, such as court records and voter registration information, as well as online behavior.

report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year found that the companies put people in categories such as “Allergy Sufferer,” “Working Class Mom” and “African-American Professional.”

“Whether you browse the Internet or shop at brick-and-mortar stores, third-party companies are aggregating massive amounts of data about you and formulating potentially sensitive inferences about who you are,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who introduced the new Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act along with Markey and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Under the new bill, people would be able to order the companies to stop using, sharing or selling data about them for marketing purposes. It would also call on the FTC to write regulations setting up a centralized website for people to easily understand their rights and get information about the companies.

The legislation builds on recommendations in the FTC’s report last year, as well as a similar analysis from the Senate Commerce Committee.

Privacy advocates have feared that the companies collect too much information about people without their knowledge, which could be an invasion of privacy. Additionally, companies could use that information to discriminate about people based on their race, income or other factors, they worry.

Company officials contend that those fears are largely theoretical and ungrounded. Information is used for marketing purposes only, they say, while adding that many people understand that they receive advertisements based on their behavior.

Markey introduced similar legislation last year, but it failed to make any progress.

Via / The Hill

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