Less than a week after the Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus’s briefing on data brokers and privacy, the Federal Trade Commission has issued orders requiring nine data brokerage companies to provide the agency with information about how they collect and use data about consumers. The nine data brokers receiving orders from the FTC were:  Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future. The agency is seeking details about:

  • the nature and sources of the consumer information the data brokers collect;
  • how the data brokers use, maintain, and disseminate the information; and
  • the extent to which the data brokers allow consumers to access and correct their information or to opt out of having their personal information sold.

The nine companies must respond by February 1, and based on the information it receives, the FTC will prepare a study to make recommendations on whether and how the data broker industry could improve its privacy practices.

Earlier this year, the FTC called on the data broker industry—consisting of companies that collect, assemble and sell consumer information to third parties, both online and offline—to improve the transparency of its practices as part of its March 2012 Privacy Report. As we discussed here, the Report noted that while data brokers collect, maintain, and sell a wealth of information about consumers, they often do not interact directly with consumers. As a result, the agency has expressed concerns that consumers are often unaware of the existence of data brokers as well as the purposes for which they collect and use consumers’ data.

This is not the first time some of these data brokers have received such orders. As we discussed here, in July 2012, a bi-partisan group of Congressmen sent similar letters seeking detailed information about “the business of data brokerage.” Currently, there are no specific laws requiring data brokers to maintain the privacy of consumer data unless they use that data for credit, employment, insurance, housing, or other similar purposes.