Data mining firms admit to legislators that personal info is collected from social networks then sold
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End the Lie
November 15th, 2012
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TheÂ data mining industry is boomingÂ with no signs of slowing down thanks toÂ increasing integration with other systems like facial recognitionÂ and anÂ increasing reluctance to comply with any and all requests from users to maintain privacy.
Now a group of the largest data mining companies admitted to a bipartisan body of legislators in the House that they indeed mine social networks like Facebook for personal information which they then sell to third parties for advertising and â€śother purposes,â€ť according toÂ Hillicon Valley.
The admission came afterÂ Reps. Edward Markey and Joe BartonÂ along with others â€śsent letters to nine major data brokerage companies asking how they collect, assemble and sell consumer information to third parties.â€ť
Harte-Hanks, one of the firms that responded to the letters claimed that they only collect information â€śin accordance with [the social networking sites'] terms of service, and as authorized by the users.â€ť
Similarly, Intelius stated that they only gather publicly available information like â€śscreen names, website addresses, professional history, and interests.â€ť
Other companies responding to the legislatorsâ€™ letters said that they indeed collect and sell personal information but they donâ€™t actually mine the data from social networking sites.
The companies claiming they didnâ€™t mine from social networks said they use government agencies, financial institutions, telephone directories and mobile phones as their data sources.
Yet the lawmakers were left unsatisfied with the answers provided by the data mining companies while pointing out that many major questions remain unanswered.
â€śThe data brokersâ€™ responses offer only a glimpse of the practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for years,â€ť said the lawmakers in a joint statement.
â€śMany questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers,â€ť they added.
The lawmakers pointed out that the data mining industry collects information largely indiscriminately, including information on children and teenagers.
â€śWe want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americansâ€™ information,â€ť the legislators said.
â€śUntil then, we will continue our efforts to learn more about this industry and will push for whatever steps are necessary to make sure Americans know how this industry operates and are granted control over their own information,â€ť they said.
Interestingly, every single company aside fromÂ AcxiomÂ refused to be identified as a â€śdata brokerâ€ť instead opting for descriptions like â€śdata provider.â€ť One company went as far to claim that they only analyze the data.
Acxiom was also the only company that actually gave legislators information about how many consumers request access to their personal information.
Acxiom revealed that over the last two years only 77 people requested access to their personal information while they collected information on a shocking 190 million people during the same two year period.
I might speculate that this is because many have never heard of Acxiom and likely have no clue that their personal information is being collected by Acxiom or similar companies.
The group responsible for sending the letters includes Reps. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), according to Hillicon Valley and Markeyâ€™s official House website.
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