By Meena Harris and Libbie Canter

Tomorrow the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing entitled, “What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?”  According to Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the Committee will “examine the data broker industry and how industry practices may impact consumers.”  The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: 

  • Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
  • Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum
  • Dr. Joseph Turow, Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication
  • Tony Hadley, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Experian
  • Jerry Cerasale, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Direct Marketing Association

The hearing is part of a more than year-long effort by Chairman Rockefeller to investigate the data broker industry.   In October 2012, Chairman Rockefeller launched an investigation into the business practices of data brokers in order to examine how data brokers collect, compile, and sell consumer information for marketing purposes.  Since September, Chairman Rockefeller has expanded his investigation by sending additional inquiries to various websites and other companies that collect personal information from both online and offline sources and then sell the data to other businesses.

Wednesday’s hearing also comes on the heels of regulatory activity relating to the data broker industry. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) each have said that they are paying attention to data brokers. For example, in its March 2012 report, the FTC called on data brokers to increase transparency with respect to and provide consumers greater control over personal data. It also recommended Congress adopt targeted legislation.