The data mining industry is booming with no signs of slowing down thanks to increasing integration with other systems like facial recognition and an 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 “other purposes,” according to Hillicon Valley.
The admission came after Reps. Edward Markey and Joe Barton along with others “sent letters to nine major data brokerage companies asking how they collect, assemble and sell consumer information to third parties.”
Harte-Hanks, one of the firms that responded to the letters claimed that they only collect information “in accordance with [the social networking sites’] terms of service, and as authorized by the users.”
Similarly, Intelius stated that they only gather publicly available information like “screen names, website addresses, professional history, and interests.”
Other companies responding to the legislators’ letters said that they indeed collect and sell personal information but they don’t actually mine the data from social networking sites.
The companies claiming they didn’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.
“The data brokers’ responses offer only a glimpse of the practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for years,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement.
“Many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers,” they added.
The lawmakers pointed out that the data mining industry collects information largely indiscriminately, including information on children and teenagers.
“We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans’ information,” the legislators said.
“Until 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,” they said.
Interestingly, every single company aside from Acxiom refused to be identified as a “data broker” instead opting for descriptions like “data provider.” 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 Markey’s official House website.
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