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Data Collectors Scrutinized By Congress

Congress launches new investigation of data brokers who collect offline, online, and mobile information on consumer’s personal information.

The investigation, launched on Tuesday afternoon by members of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, targets marketing services firms, consumer reporting agencies, and reverse phone lookup and background check service companies who sell their data to third parties- which until now have been largely unregulated. Currently, these “information brokers” are not required to show consumer information collected for marketing purposes, although it can often affect people’s access to education, health care, employment, or economic opportunities.

According to, Congressman Edward Markey said he was “particularly troubled” by programs that categorize consumers as good or bad sales prospects- without their knowledge or consent.

“We have gone from an era of data keepers to this new era where data reapers are able to create very complex profiles of every American,” Mr. Markey said in a telephone interview. “I’m hoping to ratchet up the transparency so we can foster a system of oversight and consumer control over their data.”

Congress notified these companies via letter, giving them 3 weeks to respond with the following information:

  • What sources are used to collect consumer data
  • Kinds of information collected (ethnic, race, or religious)
  • Descriptions of data collection methods used (tracking social networking or mobile phone activity)
  • What information has been marketed to third parties
  • Explanations about the security measures used to protect the data,
  • And opt-out, data access, correction and deletion options offered to consumers

Mr. Markey said consumers need greater access to data collected about them so they could make more informed choices.

“You have to make sure that the values of the physical world accompany the transition to the virtual, digital world,” he said.


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