Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Joe Barton (R-TX), and other Members of Congress recently expressed disappointment that responses to letters that they had sent to nine data brokerage firms offered “only a glimpse of the practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for years.” In July, Reps. Markey, Barton, and other Members of Congress sent letters to data brokerage firms asking questions about the types of data that they collect, how they obtain that data, and the products that they offer based on consumer profiles generated from that data. It appears that these letters from Congress were inspired by a New York Times article on Acxiom Corporation, a large data brokerage firm that aggregates information to create detailed consumer profiles that it can sell to marketers for targeted advertising or other purposes. The letters also suggest that the Members of Congress were especially concerned that the data brokerage firms may be using information to develop profiles of children and teenagers.
Rep. Markey released the letters to the data brokerage companies and the companies’ responses. According to a press release, eight of the nine companies “rejected the categorization of their business practices as data brokerage.” The responses provide insights into the firms’ practices, such as the fact that some may use information from social media sites to develop profiles on consumers, but in a joint statement, the Members of Congress lamented that “[m]any questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers.” As a result, the data broker industry may continue to be the focus of Congressional inquiries. According to their joint statement, Reps. Markey, Barton, and others will continue their “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.”